On this day in 1944, Eli Whiteley lost an eye but won the Medal of Honor for his bravery and leadership during combat in France. Whiteley, a first lieutenant, was leading his infantry platoon in house-to-house fighting near Sigolsheim, France. Despite severe wounds to his arm and shoulder, he singlehandedly killed nine German soldiers and captured twenty-three. Even after a shell fragment pierced one eye, he continued to lead his men until forcibly evacuated. For his courage, determination, and leadership he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Whiteley was born in 1913 at Georgetown, Texas. He received a B.S. in agronomy from Texas A&M University and briefly attended North Carolina State University before being drafted in 1942. After the war he returned to North Carolina State, where he earned a master's degree in 1948. Returning to Texas A&M, he earned a doctorate in soil physics. He died in College Station in 1986. The Eli Whiteley Memorial Medal of Honor Park on the Texas A&M campus honors his memory.
On this day in 1835, Holland Lodge No. 36, the first Masonic lodge in Texas, met at Brazoria. In the spring of 1835 Anson Jones and five others, fearing Mexican reprisals, met secretly under the Masonic Oak near Brazoria and petitioned the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a charter. The grand master of that state, John Henry Holland, issued the dispensation, and the lodge met for the first time on December 27, with Jones presiding as worshipful master. The actual charter seems to have been issued on January 27, 1836. The Holland Lodge struggled for several months until overwhelmed during the Texas Revolution by the Mexican army of Gen. José de Urrea, which destroyed all the lodge's records and equipment. Afterward, because the members were scattered, the brethren decided not to reopen the lodge at Brazoria. Instead, they opened it at Houston in October 1837. Jones called the convention that organized the Grand Lodge of Texas on December 20, 1837, and was elected first grand master.
On this day in 1836, Stephen F. Austin, the founder of Anglo-American Texas, died at the age of forty-three. Austin had taken over his father's colonization scheme when Moses Austin died in 1821. He began the Anglo-American colonization of Texas under conditions more difficult in some respects than those that confronted founders of the English colonies on the Atlantic coast. He saw the wilderness transformed into a relatively advanced and populous state, and fundamentally it was his unremitting labor, perseverance, foresight, and tactful management that brought that miracle to pass. Some contemporaries criticized his cautious policy of conciliating Mexican officials, and Austin was initially a reluctant supporter of Texas independence, though he led volunteers against the Mexican army during the Texas Revolution and served as a commissioner to the United States on behalf of the provisional government. He ran unsuccessfully for president of the Republic of Texas in September 1836, but accepted the office of secretary of state from the victorious Sam Houston. Shortly before his death, Austin wrote, "The prosperity of Texas has been the object of my labors, the idol of my existence--it has assumed the character of a religion, for the guidance of my thoughts and actions, for fifteen years."
On this day in 1839, Austin became the first municipality in Texas to include public-health provisions in its act of incorporation. The act, approved by the Congress of the Republic of Texas, authorized the mayor and council "to determine the mode of inspection of all comestibles sold publicly in the market or in other places; and to regulate everything relative to bakers, butchers, tavern-keepers or grog-shops." Though similar provisions were included in the acts incorporating Texana (1840), Jefferson (1848), San Antonio (1852), and Galveston (1856), the Texas government enacted very few public-health measures before the twentieth century; as in the rest of the United States, local public-health activities preceded state health organization by more than half a century. In 1903 the Department of Public Health and Vital Statistics was established, and in 1909 a seven-member State Board of Health was formed in response to longstanding agitation by the Texas State Medical Association. The next twenty years witnessed the birth of a number of major public-health programs that have survived to this day. Today, governments at all levels--federal, state, and local--cooperate to provide health services to the public.