The Thing About Today – May 16

May 16, 2020
Day 137 of 366


May 16th is the 137th day of the year. It is Honor Our LGBT Elders Day, which recognizes the people in the LGBT community who have blazed the trail for access and social acceptance. The rights and acceptance that LGBTQ individuals have today did not happen in a vacuum or by accident, and the observance is an opportunity for community centers, faith organizations, educational institutions, and aging service providers to recognize the lives of older adults in the community and honor their contributions to history.


In the United States, today is “celebrated” as National Barbecue Day, National Do Something Good for Your Neighbor Day, National Love a Tree Day, National Mimosa Day, National Piercing Day, National Sea Monkey Day, National Biographer’s Day, National Coquilles Saint Jacques Day National Armed Forces Day, and National Learn to Swim Day. The last two are typically observed on the third Saturday in May.


Historical items of note:

  • In 1771, the Battle of Alamance, a pre-American Revolutionary War battle between local militia and a group of rebels called The “Regulators”, occurred in present-day Alamance County, North Carolina.
  • In 1804, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody was born. She was an American educator who founded the first kindergarten in the United States.
  • In 1831, David Edward Hughes was born. He was a Welsh-American physicist and co-inventor of the microphone.
  • In 1842, the first major wagon train heading for the Pacific Northwest set out on the Oregon Trail from Elm Grove, Missouri, with 100 pioneers.
  • In 1866, the United States Congress established the nickel.
  • In 1868, the United States Senate failed to convict impeached President Andrew Johnson by one vote.
  • In 1888, Nikola Tesla delivered a lecture describing the equipment which would allow efficient generation and use of alternating currents to transmit electric power over long distances.
  • In 1891, the International Electrotechnical Exhibition opened in Frankfurt, Germany. It featured the world’s first long-distance transmission of high-power, three-phase electric current, which is the most common form of electrical power today.
  • In 1905, actor Henry Fonda was born.
  • In 1918, the Sedition Act of 1918 was passed by the United States Congress, making criticism of the government during wartime an imprisonable offense. It would be repealed less than two years later.
  • In 1919, pianist and 1960s Batvillain Liberace was born.
  • In 1929, the first Academy Awards ceremony took place in Hollywood, California.
  • In 1937, ballet dancer and actress Yvonne Craig was born.
  • In 1947, actor Bill Smitrovich was born.
  • In 1953, actor and producer Pierce Brosnan was born.
  • In 1955, actress Debra Winger was born.
  • In 1960, Theodore Maiman operated the first optical laser. It was a ruby laser located at Hughes Research Laboratories in Malibu, California.
  • In 1969, Soviet space probe Venera 5 landed on Venus.
  • Also in 1969, actor David Boreanaz was born.
  • In 2002, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones premiered.
  • In 2005, Kuwait permitted women’s suffrage in a 35–23 National Assembly vote.
  • In 2011, Mission STS-134 was launched from the Kennedy Space Center. It was ISS assembly flight ULF6, and was the 25th and final flight for Space Shuttle Endeavour.


In 1991, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom addressed a joint session of the United States Congress. While not the first world leader to address Congress, she was the first British monarch to do so.

And now… trivia time!

According to the Office of the Historian at the United States House of Representatives, French general and Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette was the first foreign dignitary to address the House of Representatives, which happened on December 10, 1824.

Non-heads of state have also addressed Joint Meetings of Congress. The first was Polish Solidarity Leader Lech Walesa in 1989. Nelson Mandela, then Deputy President of the African National Congress addressed a Joint Session in 1990. Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization addressed a Joint Meeting in 2019, and including Secretary General Stoltenberg, 116 leaders or dignitaries have addressed Joint Meetings of Congress.

Queen Elizabeth’s address made history in another way: She was the first religious leader to address a Joint Meeting of Congress. Remember, the British Monarch is also the head of the Anglican Church. King George VI, the current monarch’s father, attended a reception in the Capitol Rotunda on June 9, 1939, but he did not address the body.

There have been 120 Joint Meeting addresses delivered by foreign leaders and dignitaries, starting with King David Kalākaua of Hawaii in 1874. To that end, eleven monarchs or members of royalty have addressed Joint Meetings.

Twelve women have addressed Joint Meetings of Congress:

  • Queen Juliana of the Netherlands was the first on April 3, 1952.
  • Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands
  • United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
  • Philippine President Corazon C. Aquino
  • Prime Minister of Pakistan Mohtrama Benazir Bhutto
  • Nicaraguan President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro
  • Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia
  • Vaira Vike-Freiberga, President of Latvia
  • Dr. Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Julia Gillard, Prime Minister of Australia
  • Park Geun Hye, President of the Republic of Korea (8 May 2013).

Addresses to Congress can also be a family affair. Two different families have had multiple generations of descendants do so. From the Netherlands, both Queen Juliana and her daughter Queen Beatrix have addressed Joint Meetings. Queen Wilhelmina, who was Juliana’s mother and Beatrix’s grandmother, would have made three but she only addressed the Senate with the House as an invited guest in 1942. The other family was King Hussein I and King Hussein II.

France, Great Britain, and Israel have the distinction of sending the most leaders or dignitaries to deliver Joint Meeting addresses before Congress, with eight per country. After those three, the countries with the most include Mexico (7), Italy (6), Ireland (6), the Republic of Korea (6), Germany (including West Germany and unified Germany) (5),  India (5), Canada (3), Argentina (3), Australia (3), and the Philippines (3).

Finally, Winston Churchill and Binyamin Netanyahu have made more addresses to Congress than any other individuals. Churchill did so three times, as did Netanyahu. Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Yitzak Rabin of Israel have both addressed Joint Meetings of Congress on two occasions.


The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.




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