Some of our favorite historical figures—including six U.S. presidents—were born in the month of October. We couldn't possibly name them all, but here are just a handful whose lives we'll be celebrating.
1. Buster Keaton: October 4, 1895
Joseph Frank "Buster" Keaton was a pioneer of film production. He was an acclaimed comedic actor in many silent films of the 1920s, but he also wrote and directed them—developing a number of filmmaking techniques as he went along. Many became industry standards, like the chase scene, breaking the fourth wall, and appearing as multiple characters in the same scene. Keaton also did all his own stunts, like in the 1928 movie Steamboat Bill, Jr., in which a 4,000-pound front wall of a house nearly falls on him. He survives in the movie—and in real life—by being in the exact spot where an open window falls around him, but if the actor had stood two inches to the left or right, he would have been crushed.
2. John Lennon: October 9, 1940
John Lennon formed a skiffle band in Liverpool, England, when he was only 15 years old, recruiting another teen named Paul McCartney to join in. The pair soon enlisted 14-year-old George Harrison and they, along with a handful of other classmates, formed The Quarrymen. A few years later. the three broke off on their own, changed their named to The Beatles, recruited drummer Ringo Starr, and played their way into the history books. Lennon was also a composer, poet, author, and antiwar activist, but one thing few people know is that he also loved cats. He owned at least 16 of them over the years before his death in 1980.
3. Eleanor Roosevelt: October 11, 1884
She was the wife of one president and the niece of another, but Eleanor Roosevelt left a lasting mark on history with her own accomplishments. She championed racial equality and women’s rights, and was an advocate for war refugees and children. Roosevelt led volunteer support programs during World War II, wrote a monthly magazine article and a daily newspaper column, and addressed the country with a regular radio address. She was appointed as a delegate to the United Nations General Assembly, where she served on the Human Rights Commission. On top of that, she raised five children (one of her six died in infancy). Roosevelt’s many activities included years as a pitchman for all kinds of products. She didn’t need the money, and her fee went to charities and humanitarian projects.
4. Molly Pitcher: October 13, 1754
“Molly Pitcher” is a moniker used for an unidentified woman—or possibly several women—who aided soldiers during the American Revolution. While some consider her more folklore than fact, she is widely believed to have been either Margaret Corbin or Mary Ludwig Hayes, who was born on October 13, 1754. When her husband enlisted in the Continental Army, Mary joined him at Valley Forge (which was a common practice), and volunteered—cooking, carrying water, and tending to wounded men. The name Molly Pitcher comes from the fact that women would make repeated trips to fill pitchers with water to bring back for soldiers to drink, or to pour over hot cannons to cool them down. During the Battle of Monmouth in June of 1778, legend has it that Mary took over her husband's post at a cannon after he collapsed. She kept it firing until the Americans had won the battle, and even emerged unscathed after an enemy cannonball reportedly flew between her legs. She was later awarded a pension of $40 annually from the state of Pennsylvania for her service—44 years after the war ended.
5. Bela Lugosi: October 20, 1882
Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi is best remembered for his indelible portrayal of Count Dracula in the 1931 film, but when he made his Broadway debut in 1922, he barely spoke a word of English. To play the role of Fernando in the play The Red Poppy, Lugosi met with a tutor and was able to memorize and properly deliver every last line, even though he didn't understand a word of it. He pulled it off and eventually became a horror movie star, and even though he grew to resent the typecasting that followed Dracula, Lugosi was eventually buried in the Count’s signature cape.
6. Pablo Picasso: October 25, 1881
Pablo Picasso was an experimental artist best known for co-founding the Cubist art movement, but he explored many art genres throughout his life and left a catalog of works that displayed classicism, symbolism, realism, and surrealism. If that wasn't enough, he also helped to develop the art of the collage. Picasso’s full name was Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso. His last name at birth was Ruiz, but he took his mother’s Italian maiden name because he thought it was more interesting.
7. Mahalia Jackson: October 26, 1911
The "Queen of Gospel" began singing when she was just 4 years old, at the Mount Moriah Baptist Church in New Orleans. Later on in Chicago, she sang with the Greater Salem Baptist Church choir and the Johnson Gospel Singers, and worked as a beautician, laundry worker, and florist before her recording career took off in 1947. She went on to perform at Carnegie Hall, tour Europe, and sing at President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. Jackson was also a noted Civil Rights activist, and performed at the March on Washington in 1963, just before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his legendary “I Have a Dream” speech.
8. Theodore Roosevelt: October 27, 1858
Theodore Roosevelt was only 42 years old when he became president following the assassination of President McKinley, which makes him the youngest U.S. president so far. Years later, he was unhappy with the tenure of successor William Howard Taft (whom Roosevelt had supported in the 1908 election), so he decided to run again. At a campaign stop in Milwaukee, a man named John Schrank shot Roosevelt right in the chest, but the bullet was slowed by the 50-page speech folded in the candidate’s pocket. Roosevelt was wounded, but—as he wasn't coughing up blood—decided to go on with his speech. He told the crowd, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don't know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Woodrow Wilson won the election later that year.
9. Sylvia Plath: October 27, 1932
Poet Sylvia Plath won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems, but her most famous work is her semi-autobiographical novel The Bell Jar, which was published in the United Kingdom only a month before her death in 1963. Plath declared that she was writing a “potboiler” to appeal to the public’s interests, and even wrote in her journal, “Must get out Snake Pit [a popular 1946 novel about a mental illness]. There is an increasing market for mental-hospital stuff. I am a fool if I don't relive, recreate it.” The Bell Jar contained characters based on real people as well as details that mirrored Plath's own life, like the protagonist's stint at a mental hospital. While the author surrogate seems to be in recovery at the book's close, similar treatment didn’t help Plath. She suffered from depression her entire life, and dies by suicide at age 30.
10. Emily Post: October 27, 1872
Born into high society, Emily Post (neé Price) began writing after her divorce from banker Edwin Main Post in 1905. Etiquette was just one of many subjects Post wrote on, but her 1922 book Etiquette in Society, in Business, in Politics, and at Home became a runaway hit. Its popularity was attributed to American immigrants and working class people who were chasing the American Dream and aspired to fit in with society folk. She then wrote a syndicated newspaper column on decorum for decades, and founded The Emily Post Institute, which tells the world how to behave to this day. (After all, her original etiquette advice is a little outdated now.) Following Post's death, her work was taken on by her grandson’s wife, Elizabeth Post. When Elizabeth retired, her daughter-in-law Peggy Post—along with a few other members of the Post clan—became the go-to for modern manners.
A version of this story ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2021.