Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Dian Fossey and The Mountain Gorillas" from VOA.

STEVE EMBER: I’m Steve Ember.

FAITH LAPIDUS: And I’m Faith Lapidus with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about Dian Fossey. She studied the wild mountain gorillas of central Africa. Her work resulted in efforts to save these rare and endangered animals.


STEVE EMBER: Dian Fossey was born in nineteen thirty-two in San Francisco, California. Her parents ended their marriage when she was young. She stayed with her mother, who married another man a short time later. Dian said she had a difficult relationship with both her mother and stepfather.

Dian was interested in animals all her life. She started making plans to be a veterinarian, a doctor who treats animals. After high school, she attended San Jose State College in California. There, she was successful in some subjects, but not others.

She changed her program of study to occupational therapy. Occupational therapists help injured and sick people learn to do their day-to-day activities independently. She completed her studies at San Jose State in nineteen fifty-four.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Dian Fossey left California and moved to the state of Kentucky. She accepted a position at the Kosair Crippled Children’s Hospital in the city of Louisville. People there said she had a special gift of communicating with children with special needs. Yet she also had a desire to see more of the world.

Through friends, she became interested in Africa. She read a book about the wild mountain gorillas of central Africa written by American zoologist George Schaller. The mountain gorilla is the largest of the world’s apes.

STEVE EMBER: Fossey borrowed money and made a six-week trip to Africa in nineteen sixty-three. She visited a camp operated by the famous research scientists Louis and Mary Leakey. The Leakeys were best known for their studies of the development of human ancestors.

Fossey met with Louis Leakey and discussed the importance of scientific research on the great apes. She decided to study mountain gorillas, which were in danger of disappearing. Later on her trip, she traveled to the mountains of Rwanda. This is where she first saw mountain gorillas.

FAITH LAPIDUS: Fossey returned to the United States with a desire to work in Africa. She met with Professor Leakey a second time when he visited the United States to give a series of talks. This time, he asked her to begin a long-term study of the gorillas. He said information she collected might help to show how human ancestors developed.

A group called the Wilkie Foundation agreed to support her research. The Wilkie Foundation already supported another researcher, Jane Goodall, in her study of wild chimpanzees. Fossey also received help from a major scientific and educational organization -- the National Geographic Society.

STEVE EMBER: Fossey returned to central Africa in nineteen sixty-six. She spent a short time observing Jane Goodall. Then she began setting up her own research camp in what was then the country of Zaire. Fossey sought help from the local native people who knew how to follow mountain gorillas in the wild.

A short time later, political unrest forced her to move to nearby Rwanda. She settled in a protected area between two mountains, Karisimbi and Visoke. There, she established the Karisoke Research Center. This would be her home for most of the next eighteen years. Much of that time, she worked alone.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Dian Fossey spent thousands of hours observing mountain gorillas. She worked hard to gain acceptance among the animals. To do this, she copied their actions and sounds. She studied the gorillas daily and developed an understanding of each individual.

Many people had believed that mountain gorillas are fierce. Fossey found just the opposite. She learned that gorillas are both gentle and intelligent. They use their strength mainly when defending other members of their family or group.

STEVE EMBER: In nineteen seventy, the National Geographic Society wanted to publish a story about Fossey and her research. It sent a photographer named Bob Campbell to Karisoke to take pictures. He took a picture of an adult male gorilla named Peanuts touching Fossey’s hand. This became the first friendly gorilla-to-human action ever recorded. The picture appeared on the front cover of National Geographic magazine. It helped to make Fossey and her work famous.

The American researcher was able to sit among the gorillas and play with them and their young. She made notes of everything she saw. She took a count, or census, of the gorilla population. She noted what the animals ate and their environment.

Fossey learned a lot about the gorillas. But it became difficult for her to remain an independent observer. She believed that the animals would disappear forever unless something was done to protect them and their environment.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Dian Fossey needed money to continue her research project. She believed that she could get more financial assistance for her work by getting an advanced degree. She left Africa in nineteen seventy and attended the University of Cambridge in England. She received a doctorate in zoology a few years later.

Fossey returned to Rwanda to find that hunters were killing some of what she called “her gorillas.” The hunters earned money by selling the heads, hands and feet of the animals. Among the gorillas killed was one called Digit.

Fossey had observed Digit for many years and treated him almost like a friend. His remains were placed with those of other dead gorillas in a special burial area near her camp.

STEVE EMBER: After Digit was killed, Fossey established a program to increase international support for efforts to protect mountain gorillas. It was called the Digit Fund. Fossey also began an active campaign to stop the killing of the gorillas. She opposed efforts by Rwandan officials to increase the number of visitors to the animals’ native environment.

She formed a small force to help guard mountain gorillas against humans. She destroyed traps used to catch the animals. She threatened the hunters and the people who helped them. National Geographic magazine published a report about her efforts. Many people who read the story sent money to support the campaign.

However, not everyone supported what Fossey was doing. Some people condemned her treatment of the hunters. Rwandan officials opposed her efforts to control an area that she did not own. And, some animal experts criticized her strong emotional links with the gorillas. They also questioned her work as a scientist.


FAITH LAPIDUS: Dian Fossey suffered from a number of health problems. As she grew older, she spent less time in the field and more time at her camp doing paperwork. This was partly because she had college students assisting in her research efforts.

In nineteen eighty, Fossey left Karisoke and accepted a position at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. There, she began to write a book about her years with the mountain gorillas. Her book was published in nineteen eighty-three. It is called “Gorillas in the Mist.” By then, there were only about two hundred mountain gorillas in the world.

Dian Fossey made a large number of public appearances to publicize her book and the efforts to save the mountain gorillas. Then she returned to Rwanda. On December twenty-sixth, nineteen eighty-five, she was found murdered at her camp. A few days later, her body was buried near the remains of some of her gorillas.

STEVE EMBER: Even now, her death remains unsolved. Some people believe that she was killed by someone who opposed her strong attempts to protect the gorillas.

Three years after her death, a major American motion picture based on her book was released. It is also called “Gorillas in the Mist.” It helped tell her story to millions of people around the world.

Dian Fossey kept a written record of her daily activities. She wrote: When you understand the value of all life, you think less about what is past and think instead about the protection of the future.

Dian Fossey loved her work and used her research to help save the gorillas and their environment. Today, the mountain gorilla population is increasing. Some people have said that without her efforts the animals would no longer exist. The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International continues her work.


FAITH LAPIDUS: This program was written by George Grow. Lawan Davis was our producer. I’m Faith Lapidus.

STEVE EMBER: And I’m Steve Ember. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"America in the 1920's" from VOA.

Disposal of Alcohol during Prohibition

BOB DOUGHTY: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

Americans experimented with many new customs and social traditions during the nineteen twenties. There were new dances, new kinds of clothes and some of the most imaginative art and writing ever produced in the United States.

But in most ways, the nineteen twenties were a conservative time in American life. Voters elected three conservative Republican presidents: Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. And they supported many conservative social and political policies.

This week in our series, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe continue the story of American conservatism during the nineteen twenties.

KAY GALLANT: One such policy concerned immigration. Most Americans in the nineteen twenties had at least some ties through blood or marriage to the first Americans who came from Britain. Many people with these kinds of historic ties considered themselves to be real Americans, true Americans.

Americans traditionally had welcomed newcomers from such western European countries as Britain, France, or Germany. But most of the people arriving in New York City and other harbors in the nineteen twenties were from the central, eastern and southern areas of Europe.

Some Americans became afraid of these millions of people arriving at their shores. They worried that the immigrant newcomers might steal their jobs. Or they feared the political beliefs of the immigrants.

Calvin Coolidge
HARRY MONROE: Pressure to control immigration increased following the world war. Congress passed a bill that set a limit on how many people would be allowed to enter from each foreign country. And, the Congress and President Calvin Coolidge agreed to an even stronger immigration law in nineteen twenty-four.

Under the new law, limits on the number of immigrants from each foreign country depended on the number of Americans who had families in that country. For example, the law allowed many immigrants to enter from Britain or France, because many American citizens had families in those countries. But fewer people could come from Italy or Russia, because fewer Americans had family members in those countries.

The laws were very difficult to enforce. But they did succeed in limiting the number of immigrants from certain countries.

KAY GALLANT: A second sign of the conservative feelings in the nineteen twenties was the nation's effort to ban the sale of alcoholic drinks, or liquor. This policy was known as Prohibition, because it prohibited -- or banned -- alcoholic drinks.

Many of the strongest supporters of Prohibition were conservative Americans living in rural areas. Many of them believed that liquor was evil, the product of the devil.

A number of towns and states passed laws banning alcohol sales during the first years of the twentieth century. And in nineteen nineteen, the nation passed the eighteenth amendment to the federal constitution. This amendment, and the Volstead Act, made it unlawful to make, sell or transport liquor.

HARRY MONROE: Prohibition laws failed terribly from the start. There was only a small force of police to enforce the new laws. And millions of Americans still wanted to drink liquor. It was not possible for the police to watch every American who wanted to buy a drink secretly or make liquor in his own home.

Not surprisingly, thousands of Americans soon saw a chance to make profits from the new laws. They began to import liquor illegally to sell for high prices.

Criminals began to bring liquor across the long, unprotected border with Canada or on fast boats from the Caribbean islands. At the same time, private manufacturers in both cities and rural areas began to produce liquor. And shop owners in cities across the country sold liquor with little interference from local police.

By the middle of the nineteen twenties, it was clear to most Americans that Prohibition laws were a failure. But the laws were not changed until the election of President Franklin Roosevelt in nineteen thirty-two.

KAY GALLANT: A third sign of conservatism in the nineteen twenties was the effort by some Americans to ban schoolbooks on modern science. Most of the Americans who supported these efforts were conservative rural Americans who believed in the traditional ideas of the Protestant Christian church. Many of them were fearful of the many changes that had taken place in American society.

Science became an enemy to many of these traditional, religious Americans. Science seemed to challenge the most basic ideas taught in the Bible. The conflict burst into a major public debate in nineteen twenty-five in a trial over Charles Darwin's idea of evolution.

HARRY MONROE: British scientist Charles Darwin published his books "The Origin of the Species" and "The Descent of Man" in the nineteenth century. The books explained Darwin's idea that humans developed over millions of years from apes and other animals.

Most Europeans and educated people accepted Darwin's theory by the end of the nineteenth century. But the book had little effect in rural parts of the United States until the nineteen twenties.

William Jennings Bryan
William Jennings Bryan led the attack on Darwin's ideas. Bryan was a rural Democrat who ran twice for president. He lost both times. But Bryan remained popular among many traditional Americans.

Bryan told his followers that the theory of evolution was evil, because it challenged the traditional idea that God created the world in six days. He accused scientists of violating God's words in the Bible.

Bryan and his supporters called on local school officials to ban the teaching of evolution. Some state legislatures in the more conservative southeastern part of the country passed laws making it a crime to teach evolution theory.

John Scopes-indicted for
teaching evolution in school

KAY GALLANT: In nineteen twenty-five, a young science teacher in the southern state of Tennessee challenged the state's new teaching law. The teacher -- John Scopes -- taught Darwin's evolution ideas. Officials arrested scopes and put him on trial.

Some of the nation's greatest lawyers rushed to Tennessee to defend the young teacher. They believed the state had violated his right to free speech. And they thought Tennessee's law againt teaching evolution was foolish in a modern, scientific society. America's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, became the leader of Scopes' defense team.

Bryan and other religious conservatives also rushed to the trial. They supported the right of the state of Tennessee to ban the teaching of evolution.

The trial was held in the small town of Dayton, Tennessee. Hundreds of people came to watch: religious conservatives, free speech supporters, newsmen and others.

The high point of the trial came when Bryan himself sat before the court. Lawyer Clarence Darrow asked Bryan question after question about the bible and about science. How did Bryan know the Bible is true. Did God really create the earth in a single day. Is a day in the Bible twenty-four hours. Or can it mean a million years.

HARRY MONROE: Bryan answered the questions. But he showed a great lack of knowledge about modern science.

The judge found Scopes guilty of breaking the law. But in the battle of ideas, science defeated conservatism. And a higher court later ruled that Scopes was not guilty.

The Scopes evolution trial captured the imagination of Americans. The issue was not really whether one young teacher was innocent or guilty of breaking a law. The real question was the struggle for America's spirit between the forces of modern ideas and those of traditional rural conservatism. The trial represented this larger conflict.

KAY GALLANT: American society was changing in many important ways during the early part of the twentieth century. It was not yet the world superpower that it would become after World War Two. But neither was it a traditional rural society of conservative farmers and clergy. The nineteen twenties were a period of growth, of change and of struggle between the old and new values.


BOB DOUGHTY: Our program was written by David Jarmul. The narrators were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and images at You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Arts in America During the 1920s" from VOA

"Cliff Dwellers" George Bellows, 1913

BOB DOUGHTY: Welcome to THE MAKING OF A NATION – American history in VOA Special English.

There were many changes in the social customs and day-to-day life of millions of Americans during the administration of President Calvin Coolidge.

Many young people began to challenge the traditions of their parents and grandparents. They experimented with new ideas and ways of living. People of all kinds became interested in the new popular culture. Radio and films brought them exciting news of court trials, sports heroes and wild parties.

The nineteen twenties also was one of the most active and important periods for the more serious arts. Writers, painters and other artists produced some of the greatest work in the nation's history.

This week in our series, Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe take a look at American arts during this exciting period.

KAY GALLANT: Most Americans approved strongly of the economic growth and improved living conditions during the nineteen twenties. They supported the conservative Republican policies of President Calvin Coolidge. And they had great faith in the country's business leaders and economic system.

However, many of the nation's serious artists had a different and darker view of society. They were troubled deeply by the changes they saw. They believed that Americans had become too interested in money and wealth.

These artists rejected the new business society. And they also questioned the value of politics. Many of them believed that the first World War in Europe had been a terrible mistake. These artists had little faith in the political leaders who came to power after the war. They felt a need to protest the way the world was changing around them.

HARRY MONROE: The spirit of protest was especially strong in serious American writing during the nineteen twenties. Many of the greatest writers of this period hated the new business culture.

One such writer was Sinclair Lewis. He was the first American to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Lewis wrote about Americans living in the towns and villages in the central part of the United States. Many of the people in his books were foolish men and women with empty values. They chased after money and popularity. In his famous book "Main Street," Lewis joked about and criticized small-town business owners.

Social criticism also was central to the writing of the newspaper writer H. L. Mencken, from the eastern city of Baltimore. Mencken considered most Americans to be stupid and violent fools. He attacked their values without mercy.

Of course, many traditional Americans reacted strongly to such criticism. For example, some religious and business leaders attacked Mencken as a dangerous person whose words were treason against the United States. But many young people thought Mencken was a hero whose only crime was writing the truth.

KAY GALLANT: The work of Lewis, Mencken, and a number of other writers of the nineteen twenties has been forgotten by many Americans as the years have passed. But the period did produce some truly great writing.

One of the greatest writers of these years was Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote about love, war, sports, and other subjects. He used short sentences and rough words. His style was sharper and different from traditional American writing. And his strong views about life set him apart from most other Americans.

Another major writer was F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald wrote especially about rich Americans searching for happiness and new values. His books were filled with people who rejected traditional beliefs. His book "The Great Gatsby" is considered today to be one of the greatest works in the history of American writing.

A third great writer of the nineteen twenties was William Faulkner.

Faulkner wrote about the special problems and ways of life in the American south. His books explored the emotional tension in a society still suffering from the loss of the Civil War sixty years before. Some of Faulkner's best books were "The Sound and The Fury," "As I Lay Dying" and "Absalom, Absalom." Like Hemingway, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature.


HARRY MONROE: The nineteen twenties also produced the greatest writer of theater plays in American history, Eugene O'Neill.

O'Neill was an Irish-American with a dark and violent view of human nature. His plays used new theatrical methods and ways of presenting ideas. But they carried an emotional power never before seen in the American theater. Some of his best known plays were "Mourning Becomes Electra," "The Iceman Cometh" and "A Long Day's Journey into Night."

A number of American writers also produced great poetry during the nineteen twenties. Probably the most famous work was "The Waste Land," a poem of sadness by the writer T. S. Eliot.

KAY GALLANT: There also were important changes in American painting during the nineteen twenties. Economic growth gave many Americans the money to buy art for their homes for the first time. Sixty new museums opened. Slowly, Americans learned about serious art.

Actually, American art had been changing in important ways since the beginning of the century.

In nineteen-oh-eight, a group of New York artists arranged a historic show. These artists tried to show real life in their paintings. They painted new kinds of subjects. For example, George Bellows painted many emotional and realistic pictures of the sport of boxing. His work, and the painting of other realistic artists, became known as the "Ash Can" school of art.

Another important group of modern artists was led by the great photographer Alfred Stieglitz. This group held a major art show in nineteen thirteen in New York, Chicago, and Boston. The show presented modern art from Europe. Americans got their first chance to see the work of such painters as Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque.

The show caused a huge public debate in the United States. Traditional art critics accused the organizers of the show of trying to overthrow Christianity and American values. Former president Theodore Roosevelt and others denounced the new art as a threat to the country.

However, many young American painters and art lovers did not agree. They became very interested in the new art styles from Europe. They studied them closely.

Soon, Charles Demuth, Joseph Stella, and other American painters began to produce excellent art in the new Cubist style. John Marin painted beautiful views of sea coasts in New York and Maine. And such artists as Max Weber and Georgia O'Keeffe painted in styles that seemed to come more from their own imagination than from reality.

As with writing, the work of many of these serious modern painters only became popular many years later.

HARRY MONROE: The greatest American designer of buildings during the nineteen twenties was Frank Lloyd Wright. Wright believed that architects should design a building to fit its location, not to copy some ancient style. He used local materials in new ways. Wright invented many imaginative methods to combine useful building design with natural beauty.

But again, most Americans did not know of Wright's work. Instead, they turned to local architects with traditional beliefs. These architects generally designed old and safe styles for buildings -- for homes, offices, colleges, and other needs.

KAY GALLANT: Writers and artists now look back at the roaring nineteen twenties as an extremely important period that gave birth to many new styles and ideas.

Hemingway's style of writing continues to influence American writers. Many painters say the period marked the real birth of modern American art. And architecture students in the United States and other countries now study the buildings of Frank Lloyd Wright.

The changes in American society caused many of these artists much sadness and pain in their personal lives. But their expression of protest and rich imagination produced a body of work that has grown in influence with the passing years.


BOB DOUGHTY: Our program was written by David Jarmul. The narrators were Kay Gallant and Harry Monroe.

You can find our series online with transcripts, MP3s, podcasts and images at You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter at VOA Learning English. Join us again next week for THE MAKING OF A NATION -- an American history series in VOA Special English.