May 13th is apparently the day for planets and Civil War related events. In 1781, William Herschel discovers Uranus, and in 1930, Harvard College received a telegraph that Pluto had been discovered.
During the American Civil War, in 1862, U.S. federal government forbids all Union army officers from returning fugitive slaves, annulling the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and setting the stage for the Emancipation Proclamation. Three years later, the Confederate States of America agree to the use of African-American troops.
Abigail Powers Fillmore (March 13, 1798 – March 30, 1853), wife of Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States, was First Lady from 1850 to 1853. She was the first First Lady to grow up in an impoverished family and rise to a higher socioeconomic level. Despite this, she was well-educated, having access to her deceased father’s large library, as well as learning math, government, history, philosophy and geography.
In 1819, after several years of she began working at the New Hope Academy, a private school in New Hope, New York. There she met her future husband Millard Fillmore, who had enrolled to augment the rudimentary education he had received because of his impoverished upbringing. Though they were separated for three years when his family moved, they corresponded and married in 1826.
In 1848, Millard was chosen as Zachary Taylor’s vice president. The election took place on the first Tuesday of November, but at the time, Inauguration was not until March 4, 1849. After President Taylor died in July, 1850, Millard succeeded him as President and the couple moved to the White House.
Fillmore was the first First Lady to wear clothing made by a sewing machine, a relatively new invention. Unlike previous First Ladies, Abigail attended some public events, including being the only woman present when Sioux leaders signed what may have been the Treaty of Mendota or the Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.
Fillmore died just three weeks after she and her husband left the White House. Both Congress and the President’s Cabinet adjourned in mourning.
Balduína “Bidu” de Oliveira Sayão (pronounced bee-DOO sigh-OWN) (May 11, 1902 – March 13, 1999) was a Brazilian opera soprano. One of Brazil’s most famous musicians, Sayão was a leading artist of the Metropolitan Opera in New York City from 1937 to 1952.
She was born to a wealthy family in Rio de Janeiro and began lessons with a former Romanian soprano, Elana Theodorini. By her late 20s, she had sung in many opera houses in Europe and South America. Her first performance in the United States was in 1935. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut as the title role in Manon. The New York Times review called her a the “crown of the performance….This was the voice, though the voice is a little small, with the expressive qualities needed for the part.” She became so popular, that during the 1940s, a comic was created about her life.
After making her Met debut, Sayão never left the Western Hemisphere, making the Met her base, the San Francisco Opera her alternative headquarters, and traveling only to South America to perform.
She was one of the most popular stars of the Metropolitan Opera from the late 1930s through the 1940s. Her small voice prevented her from singing heavier roles such as Tosca and Madam Butterfly, but her performances as Violetta in La Traviata, Mimi in La Boheme, and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, and other roles were praised. She was one of the honored guests who sat on stage during the Met’s Centennial Gala in 1983.
Sayão gave more than 200 performances of 12 roles at the Met before she resigned in April 1952. She died at 96 in Maine.
Odette Sansom Hallowes GC, MBE (28 April 1912 – 13 March 1995), also known as Odette Sansom and Odette Churchill, was an Allied intelligence officer during the Second World War. Her family moved to Boulogne in 1926, where she met English hotelier, Roy Sansom, whom she married in 1931.
When war broke out in 1939, Roy joined the army and his family moved to a small hamlet. In 1942, the BBC appealed on behalf of the Admiralty for listeners to send postcards or photographs of the French coastline to use for intelligence operations. Sansom sent pictures from her time in Boulogne, adding a note explaining that she was French by birth and knew the area well. After accidentally addressing her letter to the War Office, she was recruited for the Special Operations Executive (SOE)’s French Section.
Sansom was one of the first women that the SOE recruited for undercover work. She joined the FANY (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry), which supplied SOE with drivers, cipher clerks, telephonists and administrators as part of her cover in case she was arrested as a spy in France. Her first assignment was the contact a resistance group on the French Riviera, before establishing a safe house in Burgundy. Her undercover identity was as Madame Odette Métayer, a widow from St Raphaël, and her contact was Captain Peter Churchill, code name ‘Raoul’, head of SPINDLE, an SOE network based in Cannes.
After the Germans invaded southern France in November, Sansom’s situation became very perilous. She and Churchill were captured in April 1943. She was initially placed in solitary confinement at a Paris prison, and after refusing to divulge any information, was transferred to Nazi counter‐intelligence service headquarters. She was tortured, though the extent of her torture is debated.
Eventually, she was sent to Ravensbruck, the women’s concentration camp, where 50,000 died from disease, starvation and overwork and 2,200 were gassed. On May 1, 1945, with the Allies drawing closer, Sansom was handed over to the Allies.
She returned to London a week later to find that Churchill had also survived. She was awarded the Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1946 and became the first woman to receive the George Cross, the highest non‐military decoration for gallantry.
After she divorced her husband, Sansom married Churchill in 1947. Her story was featured in Jerrard Tickell’s bestselling biography Odette in 1949, and Herbert Wilcox’s film the following year. The couple divorced in 1955. After Wilcox’s film was released, several former resistance members accused Sansom and Churchill of exaggerating their wartime records.
Until she died at 82, Sansom laid a wreath with violets attached, beneath the FANY memorial at St Paul’s Church, Knightsbridge. After she died, a plaque was placed in her honor. In 2012 Odette was featured in Royal Mail’s ‘Britons of Distinction’ stamp collection.
1. There is a conflict in the date of their marriage. The White House entry on Abigail Powers Fillmore lists their date of marriage as February 1826, but the National First Ladies Library indicates that they married in January 1826.