8 Historic Pregnancies Everyone Was Watching

Wikimedia Commons  // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

When you consider that it only took about seven decades to go from public pregnancy talk being taboo to Beyonce’s epic “We’re expecting twins” photoshoot, it’s clear society’s collective obsession with baby bumps has come a long way in a pretty short time. Up until the 1950s, openly acknowledging that a woman was with child (and therefore openly acknowledging her sexuality) was thought to be inappropriate.

Of course, that hasn't stopped nosy citizens and subjects from paying attention to particularly noteworthy pregnancies throughout history. These eight royals, cultural trailblazers, and newsmakers had all eyes on them—and their growing bellies—long before today’s tabloids made celebrity baby watching an art.

1. JANE SEYMOUR // 1537

jane seymour
Public Domain

Henry VIII’s first two wives—Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn—had only successfully given birth to daughters before their husband divorced and executed them, respectively. So, when the King of England married Jane Seymour in 1536 (only days after wife #2’s death), the pressure was on her and her uterus to give her new husband the male heir he so desperately wanted. Seymour conceived seven months later. Despite a seriously poor record of treating his previous wives, Henry was devoted to Seymour during her pregnancy. According to some accounts, when Seymour craved out-of-season quail, Henry had them shipped from Calais, France. Astrologers at the time predicted the bun in the royal oven was a boy. They were right. In October 1537, Seymour delivered Edward VI after days of brutal labor. Henry was thrilled, but the birth had been too much for Seymour. She died of complications soon afterward.

2. LESLEY BROWN // 1978

Lesley Brown and her husband, John, had been trying to get pregnant for nine years before they became the first to ever successfully conceive and carry a baby to term via artificial insemination (and they did it on the first try). The English couple welcomed daughter Louise on July 25, 1978, but they were regulars in the headlines in the nine months leading up to the historic delivery, too. The attention was a bit much for the Browns, a quiet homemaker and railroad employee, to take. People were fascinated—and in some cases, outraged—by the medical breakthrough. "Test tube babies" were thought to be both a promising development for thousands of childless couples and a risky step toward playing God. The Browns’ fame only got bigger after Louise was born. They even had to move to a house with a backyard so Lesley could take her baby outside without reporters tailing them.

3. IFRA HORMIZD // 309 C.E.

Shapur II’s rise to rule the Sasanian Empire—which covered much of the Middle East and parts of central Asia—started before he was even born. First Shapur’s father, Hormizd II, died in 309 C.E., then three older brothers were killed, blinded, or captured by nobles, leaving Hormizd’s unborn child next in line for the throne. Some say Shapur was crowned in utero, with his mother, Ifra, even wearing the crown on her womb. Not all historians buy this legend, though, as they wouldn’t have known the baby was a boy.

4. MARIE ANTOINETTE // 1777

MARIE ANTOINETTE AND HER CHILDREN
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The French queen of “Let them eat cake” fame didn’t exactly have a peaceful road to motherhood. It reportedly took seven years for the young royal and her young husband, Louis XVI, to consummate their marriage, and the fact that they hadn’t produced an heir in that time was a problem for the monarchy. When Marie finally did get pregnant, not only was she expected to deliver a boy, she was also subject to the royal tradition of giving birth in front of a curious crowd of courtiers to ensure no baby swapping or other funny business was happening. In the words of Marie’s first chambermaid Madame Campan, when the time came for the birth, “it was impossible to move about the chamber, which was filled with so motley a crowd that any one might have fancied himself in some place of public amusement. Two Savoyards [people from Savoy] climbed upon the furniture for a better sight of the Queen.” Talk about awkward.

5. LUCILLE BALL // 1952

Due to the aforementioned scandalousness of addressing a pregnancy publicly, it was big news when Lucille Ball and her on-and-off-screen husband Desi Arnaz wanted to write her second real-life pregnancy into the storyline of their sitcom, I Love Lucy. CBS network execs weren’t wild about the idea of including a pregnancy in a show in which the married leads could only be shown in twin beds, but gave the couple the okay provided they didn’t actually use the word “pregnant”—it was considered vulgar at the time. Instead, the episode “Lucy is Enceinte” (“Lucy is Pregnant” in French) used quaint '50s euphemisms for Ball’s condition, like “blessed event.” Audiences loved it and the subsequent episodes following Ball and her character’s pregnancy, and Ball and Arnaz greeted Desi Arnaz Jr. in real life the same day the episode “Lucy Goes to the Hospital” aired with 44 million people watching.

6. QUEEN VICTORIA // 1853

Queen Victoria and her eldest child
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The British Empire’s Queen Victoria was no stranger to her pregnancies drawing the public eye. She was attacked in an assassination attempt while riding in a horse-drawn carriage with her husband Albert in 1840, four months into carrying her first child. Later, she became the first monarch to give birth under the influence of chloroform (she used the stuff with her eighth and ninth babies)—a distinction that helped popularize pain-reducing anesthesia for upper-class women during childbirth.

7. ANNE MORROW // 1930

Famous American aviator Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne Morrow’s little bundle of joy was so eagerly anticipated, reporters camped out at the Morrow estate ahead of his arrival and radio stations played songs celebrating the event. As The New York Times described in a 1932 article about Charles Jr., “Perhaps nowhere in the world, at any time in history, had a child been the object of such wide public interest as was the Lindbergh child.” Sadly, the buzz around the baby ultimately turned deadly. When Charles Jr. was 20 months old, he vanished from his second-story crib in a kidnapping that captivated the nation for years. The Lindberghs paid $70,000 in ransom to have their toddler returned to them, but the boy’s remains were found a few months later. The man eventually convicted of “the crime of the century” was arrested in 1934.

8. FRANCES FOLSOM CLEVELAND // 1893

frances folsom cleveland
Library of Congress

There was a bit of a scandal when bachelor president Grover Cleveland proposed to Frances Folsom in 1885—most people had assumed the president would be proposing to Folsom’s widow mother instead. So the 21-year-old First Lady understandably became an instant celebrity and fashion icon when she married. (She was so sought-after at public events, the president was concerned for her safety.) As the first and only First Lady to give birth in the White House, “Frankie”s pregnancies were just as attention-grabbing. Esther Cleveland, the only baby of a president ever born in the White House, arrived in 1893.

11 Sharp Facts About Annie Oakley

Getty
Getty

You probably know that Annie Oakley was an outstanding sharpshooter who became famous while performing in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. But if your knowledge of her life is limited to Annie Get Your Gun, we’ve got you covered. In honor of her birthday, here are 11 facts about Oakley, the Little Sure Shot of the Wild West.

1. SHE MADE HER FIRST SHOT AT 8 YEARS OLD.

Born on August 13, 1860 in a rural part of western Ohio, Phoebe Ann Moses grew up poor. Her father’s death in 1866 meant that she had to contribute to help her family survive, so she trapped small animals such as quail for food. At eight years old, she made her first shot when she killed a squirrel outside her house. “It was a wonderful shot, going right through the head from side to side. My mother was so frightened when she learned that I had taken down the loaded gun and shot it that I was forbidden to touch it again for eight months,” she later said.

2. SHE USED HER SHOOTING SKILLS TO PAY OFF HER MOM’S MORTGAGE.

Despite Oakley’s top-notch shooting skills, her widowed mother struggled to make ends meet. She sent Oakley to work for another family in exchange for her daughter getting an education. As a teenager, Oakley returned home (after working as a servant for an abusive family) and continued to hunt animals. She sold the meat to an Ohio grocery store, earning enough money to pay her mom’s $200 mortgage. She later wrote: "Oh, how my heart leaped with joy as I handed the money to mother and told her that I had saved enough to pay it off!"

3. SHE BEAT HER FUTURE HUSBAND IN A SHOOTING MATCH.

At 15 years old, Oakley participated in a shooting match on Thanksgiving with Frank Butler, an Irish-American professional marksman. The match, which happened in Cincinnati, was a doozy. To Butler’s surprise, the teenage girl outshot him by one clay pigeon, and he lost the $100 bet he had placed. Rather than feel embarrassed or emasculated by his loss, Butler was impressed and interested, and the two married the following year.

4. DESPITE HER PROFESSION, SHE EMPHASIZED HER FEMININITY.


Getty Images

At the end of the 19th century, shooting was a predominantly male activity, and Oakley certainly stood out. But rather than dress or behave like a man to fit in, she emphasized her femininity. She wore her own homemade costumes on stage, behaved modestly, and engaged in "proper" female activities such as embroidery in her spare time.

5. SHE WAS ONLY FIVE FEET TALL.

In addition to Oakley’s gender, her diminutive stature made her stand out in the world of sharpshooting. In 1884, the Sioux chieftain Sitting Bull befriended Oakley when the two performers were traveling across the country. Acknowledging both her height and her shooting skill, Sitting Bull nicknamed Oakley Watanya Cicillia (English translation: Little Sure Shot). The American Indian warrior liked Oakley so much that he gave her his special moccasins to "adopt" her as his daughter.

6. SHE PERFORMED FOR KINGS AND QUEENS IN EUROPE.


Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Although the concept of the Wild West is firmly rooted in Americana, Oakley showed off her shooting skills across Europe as part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. In 1887, she performed for Queen Victoria at the American Exposition in London, and the queen reportedly told Oakley that she was a "very clever little girl." In 1889, Oakley performed at the Paris Exposition and traveled to Italy and Spain. The press loved her, the king of Senegal wanted her to come help control the tiger population in his country, and Italy’s King Umberto I was a fan.

7. SHE OFFERED TO LEAD FEMALE SHOOTERS IN WORLD WAR I.

Wanting to use her shooting skills to serve her country, Oakley wrote a letter to President McKinley in 1898. She offered to provide 50 female sharpshooters (with their own arms and ammunition) to fight for the United States in the Spanish-American War, but she never got a response. Similarly, in 1917, she contacted the U.S. Secretary of War to offer her expertise to teach an army unit of women shooters to fight in World War I. She didn’t hear back, so she visited army camps, raised money for the Red Cross, and volunteered with military charities instead.

8. SHE SUED THE PRESS FOR PUBLICIZING HER (NONEXISTENT) DRUG ADDICTION.

In August 1903, two of William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers in Chicago reported that Oakley was a cocaine addict who was arrested for stealing a black man’s pants. Other newspapers ran the story, and Oakley—who was neither a drug addict nor a thief—was horrified. "The terrible piece … nearly killed me … The only thing that kept me alive was the desire to purge my character," she said.

The woman who had been arrested in Chicago was a burlesque performer whose stage name was Any Oakley. Most newspapers published retractions, but Hearst didn’t. He (unsuccessfully) hired a private investigator to uncover anything sordid about Oakley. Oakley sued 55 newspapers for libel, ultimately winning or settling 54 of them by 1910. Despite winning money from Hearst and other newspapers, costly legal expenses meant that she ultimately lost money to clear her name.

9. THANKS TO THOMAS EDISON, SHE BECAME A FILM ACTRESS.

In 1888, Oakley acted in Deadwood Dick, a financially unsuccessful play. At the Paris Exposition the next year, though, she met Buffalo Bill Cody’s friend Thomas Edison. In 1894, Oakley visited Edison in New Jersey and showed off her shooting skills for the inventor’s Kinetoscope. The resulting film, called The Little Sure Shot of the Wild West, featured Oakley shooting a rifle to break glass balls. Although she didn’t continue acting in film, she did act in The Western Girl, a play in which she portrayed a sharpshooter, in 1902 and 1903.

10. TWO SERIOUS ACCIDENTS HALTED HER CAREER.


Annie Oakley in 1922

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

In 1901, Oakley was injured in a train accident while traveling between North Carolina and Virginia for a performance. Although reports differ about the severity of her injuries, we do know that she took a year off from performing after the accident. Two decades later, Oakley was injured in a car accident in Florida. Her hip and ankle were fractured, and she wore a leg brace until 1926, when she passed away from pernicious anemia in Ohio at age 66. Frank Butler, her husband of 50 years, died 18 days later.

11. HER NAME BECAME AN IDIOMATIC EXPRESSION.

You know you’ve made it when your name becomes an idiom. Because of her shooting skills, the phrase "Annie Oakley" acquired a meaning of a free ticket to an event. Performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, Oakley shot holes in tiny objects, making targets out of everything from playing cards to a dime to a cigar dangling out of her husband’s mouth. Because free admission tickets for theatrical shows had holes punched in them (so they wouldn’t be sold to someone else), these tickets came to be called "Annie Oakleys."

A Brief History of Canada's Iconic Hudson’s Bay Blanket

Jessica via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Jessica via Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Hudson’s Bay Company blanket may appear to be a fairly plain household item, but it’s perhaps the most remarkable blanket in the world. The off-white wool patterned with slender stripes of green, red, yellow, and indigo played a vital role in how modern Canada came to be—and it's still for sale today.

The Hudson’s Bay Company is now a well-known retail group that claims to be the oldest company in North America, and it includes Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord and Taylor among its department stores. But as far back as 1670, the company, then under royal charter from England, operated as a fur trading business, pioneering the exploration and settling of Canada. In many of the farther regions, the Hudson’s Bay Company was the effective government of the vast territory, and was at one point the largest landowner in the world, controlling over approximately 15 percent of North America.

And it was the striped Hudson’s Bay Company point blanket that helped pioneer the way.

According to the official company history, blankets had been taken to Hudson Bay as trade goods as far back as 1668. But it was in 1779 that the Company first commissioned the English textile mill of Thomas Empson in Oxfordshire for “30 pair[s] of 3 points to be striped with four colors (red, blue, green, yellow) according to your judgment.”

The durable and warm blanket was prized by the early fur traders, miners, and prospectors. “I have in my possession,” wrote one such explorer, “one of a pair of blankets which I purchased in your store 30 years ago this month … packed north all through the mountains and received some of the roughest usage that any fabric could possibly survive. I could not truthfully estimate how many tons of river gravel was dumped onto it and washed in our attempts to find gold.”

But more importantly, the striped blanket proved highly popular with the native inhabitants of Canada. Easier to sew than bison and seal skins, and much quicker to dry, the blankets provided superb insulation during the harsh winter months. Often the blankets were converted into winter coats, known as “capotes.” As fur trade increased, it was the striped blanket that often paved the way for the early relationships between the company adventurers and the native tribes, and it was often traded for beaver pelts.


Steelbeard1 via Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

As well as the traditional stripes, the iconic blanket was also known for its “points”: A series of thin black lines located just above the lower stripes. These “points” were not, as is sometimes commonly believed, an indicator of how many pelts the blanket was worth in trade, but an easy-to-read measurement of how large the blanket was. When folded, the lines, or “points” would be displayed, easily indicating the exact size of the blanket. The term stemmed from the French empointer (to make threaded stitches on the cloth). According to the company’s specifics:

A full point measured 4 – 5.5 in.; a half point measured half that length. The standard measurements for a pair of 1 point blankets was: 2 ft. 8 in. wide by 8 ft. in length; with a weight of 3 lb. 1 oz. each. Points ranged from 1 to 6, increasing by halves depending upon the size and weight of the blanket.

As the lucrative fur trade expanded into Canada, with an increasing number of trading posts, forts, and settlements, the highly prized point blanket became a primary trading commodity. Demand was so great that production back in England was expanded to the A.W. Hainsworth Company in Yorkshire toward the end of the 18th century. Their wool was known for being well-made and had been used in everything from billiard tables to the felt on piano hammers. Still made there today, Hainsworth is so prestigious, it was worn by both Prince William and Harry at the 2011 royal wedding.

By the 19th century, the Hudson’s Bay Company had evolved into a vast mercantile retail empire, often transforming their frontier trading posts into general stores, catering to—as their official history put it—“one that shopped for pleasure and not with skins.” Today the company is one of the oldest existing in the world, and still bears the distinctive colored stripes on some versions of its logo.

Despite its iconic status, the blanket is not without controversy. Disturbing claims have accused British administrators in North America of using the Hudson’s Bay blanket to spread smallpox among the native tribes as the British Empire expanded further into Canada. General Sir Jeffrey Amherst, commander of the British forces in North America during the Seven Years War, suggested in a letter to one of his colonels that the deadly pox might be introduced to the local population, and the colonel’s reply put forward the horrific idea that it could be conveyed in blankets. But according to their official history, “Hudson’s Bay Company had nothing to do with the story of the use of smallpox as biological warfare.” Complicating matters even further, while there was an outbreak of smallpox in native communities the following spring, the disease was already present in those areas before Amherst’s letters, so it’s unknown if he actually went through with the plan or merely mentioned it.

These days, the distinctive stripes can be found on everything from iPhone cases to golf balls to beach chairs. But the blanket itself is still for sale, looking much as it did when the original orders were placed in London over 230 years ago, paving the way for the birth of modern Canada.

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