On this day on 8th October

On this day in 1779 English engraver and poet William Blake begins study at the Royal Academy, Old Somerset House, London After marrying Catherine Boucher on 18th August 1782, Blake became a freelance engraver. His main employer was the radical bookseller, Joseph Johnson, who been involved in establishing London's first Unitarian Chapel in 1774.. Johnson introduced Blake to the radical circle of Mary Wollstonecraft, William Godwin, Joseph Priestley and Thomas Paine. Blake began to experiment with a new method of engraving. The first of his illuminated works, Natural Religion, appeared in 1788. This was followed by Songs of Innocence (1789), Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) and Songs of Experience (1794), a book that deals with topics of corruption and social injustice.

In his books The French Revolution (1791), America: A Prophecy (1793) and Visions of the Daughters of Albion (1793), Blake developed his attitude of revolt against authority, combining political belief and visionary ecstasy. Blake feared government persecution and some of work was printed anonymously and was only distributed to political sympathisers. An exhibition of Blake's work at the Royal Academy in 1809 failed to attract any significant interest and he sank into obscurity. Blake continued to produce poetry, paintings and engravings but he rarely found customers for his work. William Blake died in 1827 and was buried in an unmarked grave at Bunhill Fields.

William Blake, Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820)
William Blake, Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion (1804-1820)

On this day in 1821 Emily Blackwell was born in Bristol. Emily's sister, Elizabeth Blackwell, became the first woman in the United States to qualify as a doctor. Emily followed her example and after being rejected by ten medical schools was accepted by the Rush Medical College in Chicago. However, in 1853, when male students complained about having to study with a woman, the Illinois Medical Society vetoed her admission. Soon afterwards Emily managed to get accepted by the Western Reserve University in Cleveland. In 1857 the Blackwell sisters and Marie Zakrzewska established the New York Infirmary for Women and Children. The women gave public lectures on hygiene, created a health centre, appointed sanitary visitors and campaigned for better preventive medicine.

Emily Blackwell (c. 1865)
Emily Blackwell (c. 1865)

On this day in 1882 Harold Moody was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He moved to London in 1904 to study medicine at King's College. He encountered a great deal of prejudice. As well as finding difficulty finding accommodation, he was refused a post in a hospital because a matron "refused to have a coloured doctor working in the hospital". In February 1913, he started his own medical practice in Peckham. A deeply religious man, Moody was chairman of the Colonial Missionary Society's board of directors and in 1931 president of the London Christian Endeavour Federation. In March 1931 Harold Moody formed the League of Coloured Peoples. Members of the executive included Belfield Clark (Barbados), George Roberts (Trinidad), Samson Morris (Grenada), Robert Adams (British Guiana), and Desmond Buckle (Gold Coast). The League of Coloured Peoples had four main aims: (1) To promote and protect the social, educational, economic and political interests. (2) To interest members in the welfare of coloured peoples in all parts of the world. (3) To improve relations between the races. (4) To cooperate and affiliate with organizations sympathetic to coloured people.

Harold Moody
Harold Moody

On this day in 1917 Leon Trotsky named chairman of the Petrograd Soviet as Bolsheviks gain control of Russia. Lenin insisted that the Bolsheviks should take action before the elections for the Constituent Assembly. Leon Trotsky supported Lenin's view and urged the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On the evening of 24th October, orders were given for the Bolsheviks to occupy the railway stations, the telephone exchange and the State Bank. The Smolny Institute became the headquarters of the revolution and was transformed into a fortress. Trotsky reported that the "chief of the machine-gun company came to tell me that his men were all on the side of the Bolsheviks".

Lenin speaking to a crowd in Petrograd in October, 1917.
A photograph by Grigorii Goldshtein, showing Lenin speaking to a crowd
in Petrograd in 1917. By the steps, awaiting his turn to speak, is Leon Trotsky.

On this day in 1941 Jessie Jackson was born in Greenville, South Carolina. Jackson became active in the civil rights movement while still a student and eventually became a field worker with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). In 1965 he took part in the Selma to Montgomery march and although he was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968, he concentrated on his civil rights work and served as SCLC's national director (1967-71)

Jessie Jackson
Jessie Jackson

On this day in 1959 Conservatives led by Harold Macmillan won the 1959 General Election by increasing his party's majority from 67 to 107 seats. It has been claimed that the main reason for this success was a growth in working-class income. Richard Lamb argued in The Macmillan Years 1957-1963 (1995) that "The key factor in the Conservative victory was that average real pay for industrial workers had risen since Churchill’s 1951 victory by over 20 per cent".

Harold Macmillan
Harold Macmillan

On this day in 1967 Guerrilla leader Che Guevara captured in Bolivia. In 1967 David Morales recruited Félix Rodríguez to train and head a team that would attempt to catch Che Guevara. Guevara was attempting to persuade the tin-miners living in poverty to join his revolutionary army. When Guevara was captured, it was Rodriguez who interrogated him before he ordered his execution in October, 1967. Rodriguez still possesses Guevara’s Rolex watch that he took as a trophy.

Che Guevara
Che Guevara

On this day in 1967 Clement Attlee died. According to a recent poll of 200 historians he is considered the greatest prime minister in UK history. In 2004, the University of Leeds and Ipsos MORI conducted an online survey of 258 academics who specialised in 20th-century British history and/or politics. There were 139 replies to the survey, a return rate of 54% - by far the most extensive survey done so far on this subject. The respondents were asked, among other historical questions, to rate all the 20th-century prime ministers in terms of their success and asking them to assess the key characteristics of successful PMs. Respondents were asked to indicate on a scale of 0 to 10 how successful or unsuccessful they considered each PM to have been in office (with 0 being highly unsuccessful and 10 highly successful). A mean of the scores could then be calculated and a league table based on the mean scores. The five Labour prime ministers were, on average, judged to have been the most successful, with a mean of 6.0 (median of 5.9). The three Liberal PMs averaged 5.8 (median of 6.2) and the twelve Conservative PMs 4.8 (median of 4.1). Top of the list came Clement Attlee with a score of 8.3.

Clement Attlee
Clement Attlee

On this day in 1970 Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn wins the Nobel Prize for Literature for his novels The First Circle (1968) and Cancer Ward (1968), based on his experiences as a cancer patient, were both banned after Nikita Khrushchev fell from power. In 1969 Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Writers' Union. Solzhenitsyn continued to write and his novel, August 1914 (1971) on the First World War, was banned in the Soviet Union but was published abroad. This was followed by his reminiscences, The Gulag Archipelago (1973). This led to his arrest and after being charged with treason, stripped of his citizenship, and was deported from the Soviet Union.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Alexander Solzhenitsyn