Unknown Historical Figures – Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister was born on April 5, 1827 in Upton, Essex and is from a prosperous Quaker home. After studying at Grove House School in Tottenham, he went on to attend the University of London. This was a rare occurrence considering that only a few universities accepted Quakers at that time. He graduated in 1853, having a Bachelor of Medicine with honors, he then went to the Royal College of Surgeons for a few years after that. Leaving the Royal College of Surgeons in 1856, Lister went to Scotland and spent 11 years in quiet research and study.


In 1867, Lister championed the use of carbolic acid as an antiseptic. He suspected it would prove an adequate disinfectant because it was used to ease the stench from fields irrigated with sewage waste. He presumed it was safe because carbolic acid treated fields produced no visible ill-effects on the livestock that later grazed upon them. Lister’s inspiration for this discovery stemmed from Louis Pasteur (French Chemist) and Friedlieb Runge. He left the Quakers and eventually married James Syme’s daughter, Agnes. On their honeymoon, they spent 3 months visiting leading medical institutes in France and Germany.

Lister experimented with the carbolic acid solution that was created from the creosote that Friedlieb Runge had discover years earlier and employed the antiseptic techniques of Louis Pasteur. Through his experimentation with the cleanliness of an operating room, Lister uncovered the way to go about surgery without receiving infections. He found that carbolic acid when rubbed on wounds would drastically reduce the incidence of gangrene. He pioneered the idea of having all clean equipment and a clean environment to operate in and helped save millions of lives in the process. 

Lister left here in 1869, returning to Edinburgh as successor to Syme as Professor of Surgery and continued to develop improved methods of antisepsis and asepsis. His fame had spread by then and as the germ theory of disease became widely accepted, it was realised that infection could be better avoided by preventing bacteria from getting into wounds in the first place. This led to the rise of sterile surgery and some now consider Lister “the father of modern antiseptics”.

Lister died on 10 February 1912 at his country home in Walmer, Kent at the age of 84. After a funeral service, he was buried in London. Both the baronetcy and barony became extinct on his death.




Unknown Historical Figures – Lou Henry Hoover


Lou Henry Hoover was born in Waterloo, Iowa on March 29, 1874 to an average home. Lou grew up something of a tomboy in Waterloo. Charles Henry took his daughter on camping trips in the hills—her greatest pleasures in her early teens. Lou became a fine horsewoman and she developed an enthusiasm for rocks, minerals, and mining.

She attended San Jose Normal School (now San Jose State University). But in 1894 and she enrolled—as the school’s only female geology major—at Stanford University, where she met Herbert Hoover. On February 10, 1899, Lou Henry married Herbert Hoover in California. They were both 24 and had both finished their schooling entirely. Herbert Hoover’s job required them to move to China for a time and while there they witnessed the Boxer Rebellion and Lou and Herbert both became very proficient in Chinese.  Mrs. Hoover was also well versed in Latin; she collaborated with her husband in translating Agricola’s “De Re Metallica”, a 16th-century encyclopedia of metallurgy and mining. The Hoover translation was published in 1912, and remains in print today as the standard English translation.

When Lou Henry Hoover became first Lady in 1929, she provided the nation with an array of firsts for the First Ladyship. She was the first and only First Lady to speak an Asian language and was the first First Lady to broadcast on a regular basis as a guest speaker. Lou Henry Hoover also provided the basis for the Camp David retreat for the Presidents whenever they needed it. She also removed the New Year’s Day reception in the White House that was established since 1801. She served as the national president of the Girl Scouts of the USA from 1922 to 1925 while Hoover served in the cabinet of Presidents Calvin Coolidge and Warren G. Harding. She served as president again after leaving the White House for a few years. The Lou Henry and Herbert Hoover House in Palo Alto’s foothills is now the official residence of the President of Stanford University. It is located near the campus’s center and is designated a National Historic Landmark. The Lou Henry Elementary was founded in Mrs Hoover’s honor in Waterloo, Iowa in 2005. One of the brick dorms known now as “The Classics” at San Jose State University is named “Hoover Hall” in her honor. She funded the construction of the first Girl Scout house in Palo Alto, California. The oldest Girl Scout house in continuous use, it was called Lou Henry Hoover Girl Scout House.

Lou Henry Hoover died of a heart attack in New York City on January 7, 1944 and predeceased Herbert Hoover by 20 years. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Jean Henri Dunant

Jean Henri Dunant, also known as Henry Dunant, was born on May 8, 1828 in Geneva, Switzerland and was the first son a businessman. His parents stressed the value of social work and they were very active in the Geneva society. Dunant spent much of his free time engaged in prison visits and social work during his late adolescence.

On November 30, 1852, Dunant founded the Geneva version of the YMCA and three years later he took part in the Paris meeting devoted to the founding of its international organization. Dunant visited Tunisia, Algeria, and Sicily and published a book on his journey in 1858 called “An Account of the Regency in Tunis”. In 1856, Dunant went to appeal with Napoleon III of France for his land rights in French-occupied Algeria but the French emperor was at his headquarters in Solferino. Dunant had to pack his gear and fo to see him personally to ensure the emperor see the case in Dunant’s favor. He arrived in Solferino on June 24,1859 as a battle was being fought not too far from where he went to see Napoleon III.Twenty-three thousand wounded, dying and dead remained on the battlefield with no care being provided for either side. Dunant himself took the initiative to organize the civilians of Solferino, especially the females, to provide assistance to the injured and sick soldiers. They lacked sufficient materials and supplies, but Dunant himself set up the purchase of the materials they needed to continue to help these soldiers. He convinced them to service the wounded regardless of their position in the battle as per the slogan “Tutti fratelli” (All are brothers).



Dunant wrote a book on the battle and its aftermath called “A Memory of Solferino” and printed the first 1,600 copies himself in 1862. He develops, from his experience, the idea that in the future an organization should exist to give neutral care to both sides wounded. Dunant was then a part of the creation of a five person committee which included: Gustave Moynier (President of the Geneva Society for Public Welfare), Henri Dufour (Swiss army general), Louis Appia (doctor) and Theodore Maunoir (doctor). The first meeting on February 17, 1863 was considered the creation of the International Committee of the Red Cross but conflicts between Moynier and Dunant caused Dunant to remain in the shadows of the committee (meaning he was a member but hardly participated in meetings, almost non-member). 

Five years later, Dunant’s business in Algeria failed and he was forced to resign as a part of the Committee because he was a part of the Calvinist Geneva. After his mother died in late 1868, he was also expelled from the YMCA and Moynier went out of his way to ensure that Dunant received no help and that he was essentially forgotten for a time. During the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Dunant created the Common Relief Society and to advocate his ideas while ignoring his piling debt and poverty. He was an honorary member of a number of Red Cross regional branches but he lived in poverty from 1874-1886 and was nearly completely forgotten in history. But, after moving to Heiden in 1888, he was inspired by a homely couple of doctors to write about his life experiences and in 1895, he resurfaced in the public eye. 

Georg Baumberger, chief editor of St Gall neswpaper, wrote an article about Dunant as the founder of the Red Cross. The article entitled “Henri Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross“, appeared in the German Illustrated Magazine Über Land und Meer, and the article was soon reprinted in other publications throughout Europe. The article struck a chord, and he received renewed attention and support and with that came the release of his financial strain. As a result, he received the very first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 that was jointly given to him and Frederic Passy, a French pacifist.

Sinister plots from Moynier and Dunant’s creditors caused Dunant to suffer from paranoia and depression in his final years of life. He died on October 30, 1910, and his final words were “Where has humanity gone?” He outlived his nemesis Moynier by just two months. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Thug Behram

Thug Behram was born in India in 1765. He belonged to the Thuggee* cult in India and was one of the most prolific killers in the world. The Thuggee cult was an organization of professional assassins that traveled around in India and killed travelers. It is known as history’s most notorious and deadly criminal cult. It was founded in 1300 and the name Thuggee was derived from Sanskrit, sthag and Pali, thak. Thugs were Hindu and Muslim Indians whose cult was based on Kali, the creative and destructive mother goddess of Hinduism. Thugs were a well organized, hereditary cult that practiced large scale robbery and murder, justified by their belief in serving Kali. Membership induction was often passed from father to son, with the women of the home being kept unaware of the men’s cult activity.

As a well organized group of professional murderers or assassins, Thugs traveled throughout India in gangs of 10 to 200 members, all dressed in various guises. They targeted wealthy travelers and gained their confidence. When a favorable opportunity arose, Thugs strangled their victims with a rumal, or a ceremonial handkerchief,  around the victim’s neck. Once the victim was dead, the Thugs then plundered his belongings and buried the body. The acts of displaying false friendship, murder and the burial of the victim were performed according to an ancient, rigidly prescribed process. These barbaric acts were all part of their elaborate religious rites performed to honor Kali. A portion of spoils of their robbery were often set aside for Kali.

Thug Behram began his murderous spree in 1790 when he turned 25 years of age. He was very talented at the ceremonial murder style of the Thuggee and  quickly rose through their ranks to become a top member. Behram used his cummerbund, a broad waist sash, as his rumal to strangle his victims and could do it so skillfully. Every time he used the rumal, he would get the large medallion on it onto the adam’s apple of his victims to add pressure to the throat. The Canova medallion is confirmed to have been used in at least 65 murders and is currently in a private museum. Thug Behram is thought to have killed 931 people in his 50 years in the Thuggee cult. He was even captured in the process of strangling a victim in 1840 at the age of 75! He was immediately sentenced to death and was hung for his heinous crimes under the British rule. He was known as one of the most brutal murderers in history. 


*The English word “thug” is derived from the cult of the Thuggee although its use differs from what Thuggee stood for in India during the Thuggee reign from 1300 – 1840. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov

Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was born January 30th, 1926 in Zvorkovo near Moscow in the Soviet Union. Arkhipov was born into a peasant family but received a reliable education from the Pacific Higher Naval School. He was a part of the Soviet-Japanese War in August 1945, serving aboard a minesweeper while being educated by the Naval School. He eventually transferred to the Caspian Higher Naval School and graduated in mid-1947 at age 21. He served on submarines in the Black Sea with the Northern and Baltic fleets.



In July 1961, Arkhipov was appointed as the deputy commander of the new Hotel-class ballistic missile submarine K-19. The K-19 was one of two in the first generation of nuclear submarine equipped with nuclear ballistic missiles, specifically the R-13 SLBM, or the high grade submarine launched ballistic missile. The K-19 suffered a major leak in its reactor coolant system which caused the entire coolant system to fail. The sub’s radios were down as well after a separate incident that occurred earlier so they could not contact Moscow. There was no back-up cooling system installed in the submarine even after protests by the Captain Nikolai Vladimirovich Zateyev. The temperature of the sub continued to rise until a drastic decision was made. Zateyev and eight other engineers, including Arkhipov, went down into the contaminated area and built a replacement cooling system that helped them survive for the moment. The majority of K-19 was exposed to harmful levels of radiation, including Arkhipov. The other seven that accompanied Arkhipov and Zateyev died from radiation within a month of the incident. After forsaking their journey for a trip home, many of the men were angry and sickly from the radiation. Fears of mutiny coursed through Zateyev. But Arkhipv backed him up and was one of the five deputy officers entrusted with one of the only guns left on the ship. he made sure the Captain was safe until they reached Moscow. 

On October 27th, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, twelve US Navy ships found the diesel-powered, nuclear-armed submarine B-59 near Cuba. Despite being in international water, the Americans began dropping charges, trying to force the submarine to surface for identification. The B-59 was forced to drop even lower to avoid being destroyed and, in the course of this action, they lost communications with Moscow (they hadn’t contacted the home nation for several days as it was). Being too deep to monitor radio broadcasts, the crew had no idea if war had broken out between the USSR and the USA. Aboard the sub, there were three officers: Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky (the Captain of the submarine), Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov (a political officer), and Vasili Arkhipov (second-in-command). These officers were authorized to use the nuclear torpedoes if they were unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke between them as Arkhipov was the only one against launching the torpedoes. Although only second in command of B-59, Arkhipov was actually commander of the flotilla of submarines, including B-4B-36 and B-130, and of equal rank to Captain Savitsky. That factor, and his courageous actions on the K-19 less than two years before, reportedly led Arkhipov to become victorious in the argument and the submarine surfaced to be identified by the Americans. It is said that Vasili Akhipov single-handedly saved the world from World War III, which would have surely meant the elimination of either the American or the Russian civilizations.

Arkhipov was eventually promoted to rear admiral in 1975 and became the head of the Kirov Naval Academy. He was promoted again to vice admiral in 1981 and retired in the mid-1980s. He settled in Kupavna until his death on August 19, 1998 after the radiation he was exposed to on the K-19 finally caught up to him. 

Unknown Historical Figures – Frank Wills

Frank Wills was born on February 4th, 1948 in Savannah, Georgia. He was raised by his mother, Margie, after his parents separated when he was young. He dropped out of high school but earned his equivalency degree from the Job Corps, a program administered by the United States Department of Labor that offers free-of-charge education and vocational training to youth ages 16-24. Wills moved north into Michigan and found an assembly-line job at Chrysler in Detroit until 1971. 


Wills got laid off in 1971 and moved to Washington D.C. when invited by his friends to visit. In June 1972, Wills, then 24, was working as a private security guard at the Watergate office building, the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. On June 17th, Wills discovered a piece of duct tape holding the latch of a door in the building open so that it could not lock properly. He removed the tape and moved on. But, on his return from his rounds, the tape was place there once again. Burglars had gotten into the building while Wills was busy and one of them replaced the tape that Wills had removed so that they could get in and out with ease. Wills called the police when he noticed the tape again. Five men were arrested and the details that emerged from their questioning ultimately led to the Watergate Scandal that caused Nixon’s resignation from the presidency.

After the Watergate Scandal, Wills quit his job as a security guard. Many stories surround why Wills quit his job and most of the rumors are associate with the thought that it was because he did not receive a promotion or a raise for performing an exemplary service. He acted as himself in the movie called “All the President’s Men“, an account by two investigative journalists named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein on what their reports said about the Watergate Scandal. Wills was on the talk show circuit for a short time as well but was never able to capitalize on his moments of fame. 

Over the next 20 years, Wills struggled to maintain stability in his life and suffered many unemployed stints during that time. In the mid-1970s, Wills settled in North Augusta, South Carolina, to take care of his aging mother. They both had to survive on the 450 dollar Social Security check that Wills received for unemployment. He briefly returned to the spotlight in 1983 after being arrested for stealing a pair of tennis shoes for one of his four reported children. But by the time of his mother’s death in 1993, Wills was so destitute, he had to sell his mother’s body to the medical center for scientific research. He had to resort to living in a shack without electricity and lived off his pastor’s generosity until he sent out a plea in Jet magazine for financial assistance. Reverend James Kilby founded the organization, Treat Every American Right (TEAR), to raise money for Wills but few contributions came. Only when the 25th anniversary of the Watergate Scandal came about in 1997 was Wills reached out to again for the final time. Newscaster Tom Brokaw interviewed him and Wills bitterly stated that Woodward and Bernstein would have been nothing without him and his life endangering experience with the Watergate incident. 

Frank Wills died on September 7, 2000, from a brain tumor in Augusta, Georgia at age 52. Frank Wills was honored by the NAACP and the Democratic Party with a truck and a plaque, respectively. Musician Harry Nilsson dedicated an album to Wills’ contribution in bringing down Nixon. He was a figure whose spotlight fame was fleeting and his life was filled with unwarranted strife.  


Unknown Historical Figures – Pope Leo I


Pope Leo I, also known as Saint Leo the Great, was the head of Catholic Church for 21 years (from 440 A.D. to 461 A.D.) and was born in the year 400. He was an Italian aristocrat and was the very first Pope to be called “the Great”. A native of Tuscany, he became a deacon by 431 and occupied a sufficiently important position for Cyril of Alexandria, the Patriarch of Alexandria from 412 to 444. He was chosen by the emperor to settle a dispute between Aetius and Caecina Decius Aginatius Albinus, the two highest officials in Gaul (large region of Western Europe). During his absence, Pope Sixtus III died and after his great success with the Gaul dispute, the people elected him as the new Pope.

 Pope Leo was a significant contributor to the reaffirming of the papal authority and to spiritual authority in the church. He sought to erase heretics and settle all disputes. Leo expanded papal authority to different regions that the Church had some influence over such as, Campania, Tuscany and Picenum. At the Second Council of Ephesus in 449, Leo’s representatives delivered his famous Latin text called Tome. It was given as a statement of faith from Leo to the Archbishop Flavian of Constantinople dicussing the formulas of Western Christology. But the council ignored Leo’s legates and deposed Flavian and this action led to their replacement by the Council of Chalcedon. The new council was aimed at ecumenism which refers to the initiatives of the council to be aimed at increasing Christian unity or cooperation. With the death Theodosius II in 450, Anatolius, the new patriarch of Constantinople, took Leo’s Tome and spread it across the region, making it the necessary reading of religious people. 

Pope Leo’s most famous political encounter was with Attila the Hun in 452. Attila had invade italy and already sacked numerous cities such as Aquileia and was headed for Rome. He sent his demands and one of them was the sister of Emperor Valentinian III be sent to him with a dowry. Instead the Emperor sent three envoys: Gennadius Avienus, one of the consuls of 450, Pope Leo the Great, and Memmius Aemilius Trygetius, the former urban prefect. The specifics of the negotiations are unknown but they reasoned well enough to cause Attila’s withdrawal from the region. He is celebrated for his heroism in the negotiations because it would have surely meant the end had Attila invaded. 

The significance of Leo’s pontificate lies in his letters and sermons which created a doctrine, the Petrine Supremacy. This doctrine asserted the universal jurisdiction of the Roman bishop. Pope Leo passed away in 461 A.D. and was buried in his own monument. The Roman Catholic Church marks November 10th as the feast day of Saint Leo while the Eastern Catholic Churches celebrate him on February 18th.