This Month in History: February


Hattie McDaniel, the first Black woman to win an Oscar.

Moss Ballin, Reporter

At the tail end of winter, and nearing the beginning of spring, February is an exciting time. February is also an important month being Black History Month. Either way, this month has plenty of interesting historical events to take a look at.

February 2nd, 1887.

The first ever Groundhog day was celebrated on February 2nd, 1887, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. The idea of an animal predicting the weather was not a new idea. The origins of Groundhog day began in the Christian holiday Candlemass. Candlemass was celebrated by lighting candles that represented how long and cold winter would be.

Though, this holiday didn’t resemble what we know until it reached Germany. In Germany, they celebrated Candlemass by using a hedgehog to predict the weather, and when spring would begin.

When German immigrants started coming to America, they brought this tradition with them. Instead of hedgehogs, this holiday was celebrated with Groundhogs and quickly became popular all over Pennsylvania.  

In 1887, an editor of a Pennsylvania newspaper, who happened to be a part of a groundhog hunting group in Punxsutawney, declared Phil America’s only true weather forecasting groundhog. Ever since then, that line of weather forecasting groundhogs has always been known as Phil.

February 14, 270 A.D.

On February 14th, 270 A.D., Valentine, a holy priest in Rome, was executed by Emperor Claudius II. 

Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, ruled over Rome for only about 2 years, but quickly became known for his widely unpopular, and bloody campaigns. Being as cruel of a leader as he was, he knew he needed a strong military to back him. However, being as unpopular as he was, many soldiers did not want to join his army.

This made Emperor Claudius upset, and he blamed it on the soldier’s wanting to spend too much time with their wives and families. To combat this, he put a ban on marriages and engagements.

Valentine, who found this especially cruel, deified Claudius, by performing marriages in secret. When he was inevitably found out, Valentine was sentenced to death. This sentence was carried out on February 14th, which is now Valentine’s Day.

For what was considered a great service, the Catholic Church named Valentine a saint after his death.

February 29, 1940

Hattie McDaniel became the first Black actress to win an Oscar, on February 29, 1940. Gone with the Wind won eight Oscars that night, including the Oscar Mcdaniel won for best supporting actress.

The role McDaniel played, however, was very controversial. The character “Mammy” was a former slave, who spoke nostalgically of the south. This character angered many Black people across the country, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, who criticized McDaniel for even accepting the role.

To this criticism, McDaniel responded saying that she would rather play a maid than be one in real life. In truth, as stereotypical as her character was, McDaniel was able to bring something more to it through her performance. She often plated her characters as strong, independent individuals, who made white audiences in the 1930s and 1940s uncomfortable.

February, while the shortest month of the year, is no less exciting. Looking back, the events of this month truly shaped how we live our lives today, what we celebrate, and how we celebrate.