Monday, June 25, 2012

The Doctor, the Millionaire, the Architect and the Show Girl Cocktail

On this day in 1678, Elena Cornaro Piscopia becomes the first woman to receive a university degree.

Born into a noble Venetian family in 1646, Elena began the study of Latin and Greek at age seven and would soon learn Hebrew, Spanish, French and Arabic. As a young woman she would study mathematics, philosophy, and theology and in 1665 (at age eighteen) she became a Benedictine oblate, (a lay person who lives in accordance with a chosen monastic rule) but would never become a nun.

At her fathers insistence, she would apply to one of the most prestigious universities in the world, Padua, to earn a degree in in theology and philosophy. The catholic church would not allow a woman to carry a degree in theology so her request was denied, but she later reapplied for the philosophy degree alone and was accepted.

After completion of her studies, the final examination for the Doctor of Philosophy degree was to be held in the University Hall, but due to the sheer number of spectators wishing to attend, it was transferred to the Cathedral of the Blessed Virgin in Padua, where crowds of students and intelligencia who came from near and far stood to witness the historic event. Her final exam would be to answer, in classical Latin, questions drawn from difficult passages of Aristotle. Upon completing her examination brilliantly, she was awarded the Doctor's Ring, the Teacher's Ermine cape, and the Poet's Laurel Crown for her achievements at the university.  

After receiving her degree Elena would leave Venetian society and, wearing the habit of a Benedictine oblate, devote her life to learning and charity work. She would die from tuberculosis just six years later.



On this day in 1906 Harry Thaw, while in a jealous rage, shoots and kills prominent architect Stanford White on the rooftop of Madison Square Garden . The son of the Pittsburgh coal and railroad baron William Thaw, Harry was born into a life of privilege but quickly became a heavy drinker and drug user. The story goes that he was the inventor of the speedball (an injection of morphine and/or heroin mixed with cocaine) and once, while on trial, consumed an entire bottle of laudanum (a morphine/codeine mix) in one sitting.

After being expelled from Harvard, Thaw spent most of his time with drugs and chorus girls. It was at a broadway show that he met Stanford White, the architect who designed the Washington Square Arch and the second Madison Square Garden. After a supposed snub by White, Thaw found out that White was interested in a chorus girl named Evelyn Nesbit and decided to court her.  Nesbit was famous in her own right as an artists model for painters and photographers as well as being a showgirl.

From here on it's an interesting story of drugs, society, jealousy, money and depravity fit for a Hollywood movie, (oh wait, they did make a movie out of it) and if you have time it's worth a read since all three of the characters involved are extremely interesting. For now, let's jump to 3 minutes before the credits roll.

Thaw marries Nesbit, but when he finds out that White had sex with her when she was only 16 (White was 47) he becomes slightly unhinged. When Thaw finds out that White will be attending a show on the rooftop theater of Madison Square Garden he attends the show with his wife. During the final chorus Thaw walked up to White's table and while shouting "You ruined my wife" shot him dead.

The Historical Inebriant:  The Showgirl Cocktail


1 1/2 oz light rum
1/2 oz unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz simple syrup
1/2 oz pineapple juice
1/2 americano or bitter apertif

Shake the first five ingredients hard with ice; strain into a chilled martini glass.
Sink the americano into the glass.
For garnish: Squeeze a large disk of lemon peel and rim the glass, then float on top.

On this day in 1910, The Mann Act, prohibiting interstate transport of females for “immoral purposes” is passed.

The Long, Colorful History of the Mann Act

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