Today in History

Today in History: July 17

The Spanish Civil War

Arribas. 18 Julio 1936-1937. Color lithograph poster, 1937. #: LC-USZC4-3911 (color transparency)
18, Julio 1936-1937, [The 18th of July 1936-1937],
Arribas, artist,
color lithograph poster,
1937.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

The Spanish Civil War began on July 17, 1936 as a series of right-wing insurrections within the military, staged against the constitutional government of the five-year-old Second Spanish Republic. Because it was the first major military contest between left-wing forces and fascists, and attracted international involvement on both sides, the Spanish Civil War has sometimes been called the first chapter of World War II.

The rebels, or Nationalists as they came to be known, were backed by a spectrum of political and social conservatives including the Catholic Church, the fascist Falange Party, and those who wished to restore the Spanish monarchy. They received aid in the form of troops, tanks, and planes from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, and Germany field-tested some of its most important artillery in Spain. With the rise of General Francisco Franco as leader of the Nationalist coalition, the threat of fascism's spread across Europe visibly deepened.

poster of a soldier with the sun radiating behind him
Falange os llama, ahora o nunca [The Falange is calling you, now or never],
Hohenleiter, artist,
color lithograph poster,
1936-1939.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

poster showing a soldier throwing a grenade
No pasareis - C.N.T./F.A.I. [You shall not pass! C.N.T./F.A.I.]
Gimínez, artist,
color lithograph poster,
1936-1939.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

The Republicans were backed by Spanish labor unions and a range of anti-fascist political groups, from communists and anarchists to Catalonian separatists to centrist supporters of liberal democracy. The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union and from Mexico, but their most likely European allies signed a joint agreement of nonintervention. The most visible international aid came in the form of volunteers. Estimates vary, but as many as 60,000 individuals from over fifty countries joined the International Brigades to fight for the cause of the Spanish Republic. Between two and three thousand of these volunteers were men and women from the United States—most served with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (external link).

The Spanish Civil War posed a major threat to international political equilibrium, and Americans watched closely the events of the conflict. The brutality of the situation also forced many Americans to question the United States' post-World War I noninterventionist policies. Between 500,000 and 1 million Spaniards, both soldiers and civilians, died from war or war-engendered disease and starvation, and thousands more became displaced refugees.

Scene During the Siege of Teruel, Spain. April 1, 1938.
Armies battle for Tervel,
A.B.C. Press Service,
photographic print,
1938.
Prints & Photographs Online Catalog

In an interview conducted with members of El Club Español (The Spanish Club) in Barre, Vermont, John (née Juan) Bavine puzzled:

I do not understand it… The Spain I knew years ago was a quiet country, she love' peace. Her farmers work' the rich fields. Her artists were proud to make beautiful our big cities an' cathedrals. We were 22,000,000 people who want only to be left alone - an' now what. You see beautiful cathedrals all smash' an' buried; the cities in ruin. A friend of mine, he say the other day that one Spaniard he is killed every nine minutes. Every nine minutes. God, that is terrible! More than one million of them lay dead from this war.

"Memorandum to Dr. Botkin,"
Barre, Vermont,
Mary Tomasi, interviewer, July 29, 1940.
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940

The Spanish Civil War, especially the anti-fascist side, became a cause célèbre in the United States. Writers and artists including novelist Ernest Hemingway, poets Muriel Rukeyser and Langston Hughes, and painter Robert Motherwell paid homage to the struggling Republic in their work. Baritone Paul Robeson sang for the international brigades. The anarchist Emma Goldman led an English-language publicity campaign. Fictional character Rick Blaine, protagonist of the 1942 film classic Casablanca, struggled against fascism in Spain, as did Robert Jordan, the hero of Hemingway's 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Washington, D.C. Russian war anniversary benefit at the Watergate. Paul Robeson backstage.
Washington, D.C. Russian war anniversary benefit at the Watergate. Paul Robeson backstage,
Gordon Parks, photographer,
June 1942.
America from the Great Depression to World War II: Photographs from the FSA and OWI, ca. 1935-1945

The Spanish Civil War continued until March 28, 1939, when Nationalist troops led by Franco overcame the Republic's forces and entered Madrid. Just months after the Spanish Civil War ended, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. Faced with the devastation of his country, Franco declared Spain at first a neutral and then a nonbelligerent nation during World War II, though his sympathies clearly lay with Axis powers.

Francisco Franco sustained a military dictatorship for almost forty years, until his death in 1975. Almost immediately, Spain began a peaceful transformation away from dictatorship; its present democratic constitution was formalized in 1978.

King's College

Trinity Church, New York.
Trinity Church,
New York,
1901.
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

On July 17, 1754, King's College opened in New York City. The Anglican academy would later grow into the venerable Columbia University. The ten students of the college met for their first classes, in Latin and Greek, in a schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church at Broadway and Wall streets.

The early college educated a number of American patriots and intellectuals including several members of the Continental Congress. Among its first students and trustees were Robert R. Livingston, a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence; Gouverneur Morris, author of much of the final wording of the Constitution; Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers; and John Jay, the nation's first Chief Justice and also an author of the Federalist Papers.

John Jay
Painting of John Jay,
first Chief Justice of U.S.
,
Theodor Horydczak, photographer,
circa 1920-1950.
Washington as it Was: Photographs by Theodor Horydczak, 1923-1959

Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton,
John Trumbull, artist,
[between 1900 and 1912].
Touring Turn-of-the-Century America: Photographs from the Detroit Publishing Company, 1880-1920

During the American Revolution, the college was closed, but when peace was declared, it reopened under a new name, Columbia College, in honor of the new nation. Over time, other special colleges and professional schools developed in connection with Columbia College. The College of Physicians and Surgeons (external link), the first American school to confer the M.D., was established in 1767. Barnard College (external link) for women, "sister" to the all-male Columbia College, was established in 1889. Melvil Dewey founded the School of Library Economy, the world's first institution for training librarians, at Columbia in 1887, though it moved to Albany to become the State Library School the following year. In 1898, Teachers College (external link), which had been founded in 1887, became affiliated with Columbia as a professional school for training teachers. In his will, Joseph Pulitzer endowed the Columbia University School of Journalism (external link) (1912).

Columbia University
Columbia University,
New York City,
Haines Photo Co., 1909.
Taking the Long View: Panoramic Photographs, 1851-1991

In 1890, Columbia's new president, Seth Low, began to organize the separate autonomous schools under a central administration as a true "university." In 1896, the institution was renamed Columbia University; it is now officially Columbia University in the City of New York (external link). In 1897, the university moved uptown to the Morningside Heights campus where it remains to the present day.