Skip to content

An Early Spelling Champ

Marie C. Bolden was 13 when she became the first national spelling bee champion in the United States.

A portrait of a teenager from the early 20th century next to a blue ribbon that says first spelling bee winner.

© sergign/stock.adobe.com, Cleveland Gazette; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Marie Bolden was the first national spelling bee champion in the United States.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee has been the most famous competition of its kind in the United States since its debut in 1925. But America’s first national spelling champion, a Black teenager named Marie C. Bolden, was crowned long before the Scripps event existed.

Bolden was a 13-year-old 8th grader in 1908, when her hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, hosted the competition and invited teens from cities around the U.S. to participate. At a time when many schools, especially in the South, were racially segregated, all the students in the spelling bee were white except for Bolden. Not everyone was pleased that a Black student was included. In fact, some competitors threatened to drop out of the event in protest. 

This made Bolden more determined to do well.

“I just kind of gritted my teeth and made up my mind that I wouldn’t miss a word,” she told a reporter after the spelling bee. In fact, Bolden spelled 500 words correctly—100 on a written test and 400 on stage.

Bolden never talked about her victory in what’s now recognized as the first national spelling bee ever held in the U.S. In fact, her family didn’t learn about the spelling bee until after her death in 1981, when they unearthed a newspaper article about it. Today, Bolden’s grandson Mark Brown says he and his two daughters are extremely proud of what Bolden accomplished despite the racism she faced.

“I think there’s a great sense of pride in the fact that our family history is based on sacrifice and people being adventurous, and taking on a new life, and not letting things hold them back,” Brown told National Public Radio.

NEWS EXTRA

Why Does the Sun Look Red?

A red sun against a very dim sky.

Islam Dogru—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Canada is experiencing its worst wildfire season on record. In June 2023, smoke from blazes in eastern Canada spread through the region, all the way down to the northeastern and midwestern U.S. Many people reported that the Sun and the Moon appeared to be red. But why?

Scientists say that a cloudless sky looks blue because of the way sunlight interacts with the particles in the air. You may know that light travels in waves—and that different colors of light have different wavelengths. Normally the particles in the air are small, so they scatter shorter wavelengths of light most effectively. Blue light has shorter wavelengths, so the sky appears blue.

When the air is smoky, there are larger particulates in the air. These particles filter out the shorter wavelengths of light, allowing the longer red and orange wavelengths to be brighter. This changes the color of the sky as well as the Sun and the Moon.

Did You Know?

A teen on a stage smiles and holds up a trophy as an audience and other teens clap.

Marvin Joseph—The Washington Post/Getty Images

On June 1, 14-year-old Dev Shah won the 2023 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The winning word was psammophile. A psammophile is a living thing that prefers sandy soil environments.

Emancipation Park

History and Art Collection/Alamy

This photo was taken at a Juneteenth celebration in 1900.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is a U.S. holiday celebrating the end of the institution of slavery in the United States. A public park in Houston, Texas, played a key role in uniting the city’s Black community in celebrating freedom.

Emancipation Park was founded in 1872 by four Houston residents who had once been enslaved. Seven years earlier, on June 19, 1865, federal (U.S.) troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, and informed enslaved people that they were free. (The Emancipation Proclamation had declared that all enslaved people in the Deep South were free—but the news had not reached the people of Texas.) The four residents wanted to buy a piece of land that would be dedicated to commemorating this day—Juneteenth.

With help from Houston’s Black community, they raised enough money to buy the land and named it Emancipation Park. At the time, it was the only park in Houston where Black residents were permitted to gather.

The founders didn’t have enough money to keep the park open all year. Instead, the land was used only for Juneteenth celebrations. Every June 19, Houston’s Black residents gathered at the park for music, dancing, and speeches.

Today, Emancipation Park is open all year. Juneteenth, which was once celebrated mostly in Texas, has been a federal holiday in the U.S. since 2021.

What Is Juneteeth?

Three panels showing dancers, a parade with flags, and three people clapping for Juneteenth.

© Dylan Buell, Go Nakamura, Brandon Bell/Getty Images

Juneteenth is celebrated all over the United States.

June 19 is Juneteenth, a day to celebrate the end of the institution of slavery in the United States.

You can learn more about the history of Juneteenth at Britannica School.

WORD OF THE DAY

festivities

PART OF SPEECH:

noun

Definition:

: enjoyable activities at the time of a holiday or other special occasion : festive activities

Definitions provided by
Merriam-Webster Logo

Crossword

See if you can fill in all the ice cream flavors.

O
O
O
O
O
O

In Case You Missed It

German cockroaches evolved to live in human homes. Scientists now think they know how.
June 6, 2024
A new plant in Iceland is designed to address climate change by sucking carbon out of the atmosphere.
June 2, 2024
For several days in May, an aurora borealis decorated the night sky over much of the Northern Hemisphere.
May 30, 2024
Dr. Catherine Wu is working on vaccines that could treat many forms of cancer.
May 22, 2024