History Book – Lewis & Clark head home

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: The WORLD History Book.

Today, Lewis & Clark begin their journey home. Also, the birth of playwright Tennessee Williams, and the first international women’s sporting event. Here’s senior correspondent Katie Gaultney.


KATIE GAULTNEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Explorers Lewis and Clark and their team began their journey home on March 23rd, 1806, after traveling through the Louisiana Purchase and reaching the Pacific Ocean. 

During a 2017 Walnut Creek Library Association presentation, Lewis and Clark enthusiast Mark Jordan read from President Jefferson’s letter to Lewis that charged him with his chief goal: 

JORDAN: The object of your mission is to explore the Missouri River, its communication with the waters of the Pacific Ocean that may offer the most direct and practicable water communication across the continent, for the purposes of commerce.

Along the way, they also studied the region’s geography, flora, and fauna. After reaching the Pacific, they headed back on the Columbia River, using Clark’s new map. A National Geographic documentary on the expedition explains how they owed their mission’s success to the support of the American Indian tribes they had encountered. 

NARRATOR: They had passed among some 50 tribes without whose help they might never have returned. None played a greater role in their success than the young woman at their side…

Shoshone Sacagawea stayed behind with her family. She had delivered her firstborn son a few weeks after she first encountered the expedition, then kept the infant with her throughout the rest of her time with Lewis, Clark, and their “Corps of Discovery.”

Their journey to the Pacific took two years, but the return trip only lasted six months. Carolyn Gillman spoke to PBS in 2006 on behalf of the Missouri History Society about what a surprise it was when they returned to St. Louis via the Missouri River. 

GILLMAN: Everybody had more or less forgotten about them. There had been no news from them since the spring of 1804, so it had been two years since any word had been heard from them. Everybody had kind of given them up for lost. 

So family, friends, and federal officials alike were thrilled not only that they returned, but that they accomplished the mission: reaching the Pacific, establishing a legal claim to the land, and making a map of the new territory. 

Moving from the Louisiana Purchase now to Tennessee. Tennessee Williams, that is. 

BRANDO: Hey, Stella! 

That’s Marlon Brando delivering the quintessential line of Williams’ play-turned-film, A Streetcar Named Desire. It was just one of a string of successful stage productions. In addition to Streetcar, Williams was the mind behind The Glass Menagerie, and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

CLIP: I feel all the time like a cat on a hot tin roof!/ Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it. 

But before he adopted the pen name “Tennessee,” he was just Tom, a little boy born in Columbus, Mississippi on March 26th, 1911. 

Williams had a hard upbringing, with a largely absent, alcoholic father, and he had difficulty fitting in with kids his age. He also suffered serious illnesses as a child, including rheumatic fever and diphtheria. In 1974, Williams told interviewer Dick Cavett the condition removed any fear he had of death.

WILLIAMS: When you’ve lived with it that long, and been told if you were lucky, you’d live to 40, you get kind of used to the idea, it ceases to terrify you…/ Every year after 40 has been a bonus then./ Yes!  

For all his success and literary brilliance, Williams made destructive life choices. He died of a drug overdose at age 71. But his plays live on. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for drama and is widely regarded as one of America’s finest playwrights. 


We end today with a milestone in women’s sports. The first international women’s sporting event took place 100 years ago, with the Women’s Olympiad on March 21, 1921. 


Note that’s “Women’s Olympiad,” not Olympics. The distinction is important—Olympic organizers at that time only allowed women to compete in events like archery, sailing, tennis, and figure skating. Women’s sports pioneers Alice Milliat and Camille Blanc unsuccessfully lobbied the International Olympic Committee to create women’s-only track events in the Olympic Games. 

NARRATOR: Fears were expressed that athletic competition could physically damage the weaker sex.

With that rejection, they decided to come up with their own version of the Olympics. Their event took place in the gardens outside the famed casino in Monte Carlo.

One hundred participants from five nations—France, Italy, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Norway—competed in track and field events. The tournament also featured exhibitions in women’s basketball and gymnastics, and an old-fashioned game called “pushball,” where players pushed a 50-pound, 6-foot-diameter ball around a field. France and England dominated the medal count. 

The combination of athletics and performance-style dance gymnastics made the event a smashing success with the public and the press. Other international women’s sporting events followed, and in 1928, the Summer Olympics featured track and field events for women for the first time. 

That’s this week’s History Book. I’m Katie Gaultney.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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