Year
1956

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes meet

On this day in 1956, Sylvia Plath meets her future husband, Ted Hughes, at a party in Cambridge, UK. The two poets fell in love at first sight and married four months later.

Plath was born in 1932, the daughter of an autocratic German father who taught biology and was a leading expert on bumblebees. Plath’s father died at home after a lingering illness that consumed the energy of the entire household and left the family penniless. Sylvia’s mother went to work as a teacher and raised her two children alone.

Plath was an outstanding student. She won a scholarship to Smith, published her first short story, “Sunday at the Mintons,” in Mademoiselle while she was still in college, and then won a summer job as “guest managing editor” at the magazine. After the job ended, she suffered a nervous breakdown, tried to commit suicide, and was hospitalized. She returned to school to finish her senior year, won a Fulbright to England, and went to Cambridge after graduation, where she met Hughes.

Plath took a job teaching at Smith, which she kept for a year before quitting to write full time. She and Hughes lived in Boston, and she attended poetry workshops with Robert Lowell, whose confessional approach to poetry deeply influenced her. Hughes won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1959, and the couple returned to England, where Plath had her first child.

Her first poetry collection, Colossus, was published in 1960 to favorable reviews. The couple bought a house in Devon and had a second child in 1962, the same year that Plath discovered that her husband was having an affair. He left the family to move in with his lover, and Plath desperately struggled against her own emotional turmoil and depression. She moved to London and wrote dozens of her best poems in the winter of 1962. Her only novel, The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical account of a college girl who works at a magazine in New York and suffers a breakdown, was published in early 1963, but received mediocre reviews. With sick children, frozen pipes, and a severe case of depression, Plath took her own life in February 1963, at age 30. Hughes edited several volumes of her poetry, which appeared after her death, including Ariel(1965), Crossing the Water (1971), and Collected Poems (1981), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1982.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Marcos flees the Philippines

In the face of mass demonstrations against his rule, Philippines President Ferdinand Marcos and his entourage are airlifted from the presidential palace in Manila by U.S. helicopters. Elected in 1966, Marcos declared martial law in 1972 in response to leftist violence. In the ...read more

African American congressman sworn in

Hiram Rhoades Revels, a Republican from Natchez, Mississippi, is sworn into the U.S. Senate, becoming the first African American ever to sit in Congress. During the Civil War, Revels, a college-educated minister, helped form African American army regiments for the Union cause, ...read more

Clay knocks out Liston

On February 25, 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay shocks the odds-makers by dethroning world heavyweight boxing champ Sonny Liston in a seventh-round technical knockout. The dreaded Liston, who had twice demolished former champ Floyd Patterson in one round, was an 8-to-1 favorite. ...read more

Molotov is born

Vlacheslav Mikhaylovich Skryabin, foreign minister for the Soviet Union who took the revolutionary name Molotov, is born in Kurkaka, Russia. Molotov was an enthusiastic advocate of Marxist revolution in Russia from its earliest days. He was an organizer of the Bolshevik Party in ...read more

Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston

On February 25, 1964, underdog Cassius Clay, age 22, defeats champion Sonny Liston in a technical knockout to win the world heavyweight boxing crown. The highly anticipated match took place in Miami Beach, Florida. Clay, who later became known to the world as Muhammad Ali, went ...read more

Explosion kills hundreds in Brazil

On this day in 1984, a huge explosion destroys a shantytown in Brazil, killing at least 500 people, mostly young children. An investigation into the disaster later revealed that the true death count was impossible to know because so many bodies had in effect been cremated in the ...read more

Communists take power in Czechoslovakia

Under pressure from the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, President Eduard Benes allows a communist-dominated government to be organized. Although the Soviet Union did not physically intervene (as it would in 1968), Western observers decried the virtually bloodless communist coup ...read more

Legal Tender Act passed

On this day in 1862, the U.S. Congress passes the Legal Tender Act, authorizing the use of paper notes to pay the government’s bills. This ended the long-standing policy of using only gold or silver in transactions, and it allowed the government to finance the enormously costly ...read more

Miami drive-in debuts

American drive-in movie theaters experienced their golden era during the 1950s, but some Floridians were watching movies under the stars in their cars even before then: The city of Miami gets its first drive-in on this day in 1938. The Miami drive-in charged admission of 35 cents ...read more

British surrender Fort Sackville

On this day in 1779, Fort Sackville is surrendered, marking the beginning of the end of British domination in America’s western frontier. Eighteen days earlier, George Rogers Clark departed Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River with a force of approximately 170 men, including ...read more