TWCA - Early through Recently


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-- Early
-- 2000

Journal of
Calendar Reform


































































































































































































































































































































The Elisabeth Achelis Story

by Molly E. K. McGrath
Former director, the The World Calendar Association - International
(October 2000 - February 2005)

Elisabeth Achelis spread the New York Times out on her desk, momentarily blanketing the plaque dear to her that bore this quote of unknown Persian origin. On that Sunday, September 8, 1929 (a date she never forgot and one she revisited fondly in her 1961 autobiography, Be Not Silent), Elisabeth found a letter to the editor of the New York Times by Lewis E. Ashbaugh of Denver, Colorado. In a brief, almost casual tone, Ashbaugh suggested that the then-unofficial National Committee on Calendar Simplification should consider the adoption of a twelve-month, equal-quarter calendar (perhaps suggested as early as 1745 and published by Abbe´ Mastrofini in 1834) over that of the thirteen-month one that was rapidly gaining popular favor. Elisabeth saw much in this simply revised calendar plan, and instantaneously knew that her five-year search for something to help the world in which she lived had come to an end.

In 1929, the year scientist Edwin Hubble announced that the universe was expanding, Elisabeth Achelis determined resolutely that the world needed a calendar that would unite people all over the globe. She embraced a calendar with fixed dates that would be the same every year, and with a kind of fierce, new-mother pride she pronounced it "The World Calendar." From the 1930s until her death at age 93, Elisabeth Achelis would go on to lead the most robust push for calendar reform of the twentieth century.

Elisabeth believed that calendar reform is a sign of human change, and that the first calendar may even be regarded as humankind's first act of social science. Ever since we began making calendars, we have been trying to perfect them, and we have seen that calendar reforms coincide with major turning points in history. Calendar reform has always been an issue of international concern, illuminating trends toward empirical and national change, but it has not been successful on a grand scale since Pope Gregory XIII's reforms in the sixteenth century, and even then it took several centuries for most developed countries to embrace these changes. When the Gregorian calendar went into effect in October of 1582, most Catholic countries followed suit, but Great Britain (and consequently the American colonies) didn't adopt this calendar until 1752; Germany in 1775; Japan in 1873; Russia in 1917 (and again in 1940); and China didn't adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1949, the year the atomic clock was introduced to the world. Many Arabic and Middle Eastern nations still have not accepted the Gregorian calendar.

In 1923, two and a half decades before China would adopt it, the League of Nations initiated the first serious attempt to reform the Gregorian calendar since the papacy put it into effect. By the early 1920s, the effects of the Great War were wearing off in America, and the nation was embarking on a short period of complacency. Business was booming, and government was strong. In this spirit, the U.S. invited other League nations, including the war-torn European powers, to conceive of a calendar that might better reflect the times in which they lived. However, calendar reform was not typically on the League's agenda. Why was it brought forth at this time? Many representatives imagined that global calendar reform could do quite a bit of good in reuniting a world fractured by the war. Perhaps, too, League members recognized that their world had begun to embrace industry as never before-American factories engaged in the mass production of war machines began making cars and radio for the world market-and so they anticipated that a new calendar would further unite the industrial world.

The Special Committee of Inquiry of the League tackled the issue of calendar reform by inviting its member nations to submit proposals to correct the waywardness of the Gregorian calendar. Businesses that conducted their affairs overseas were having trouble scheduling meetings, shipments and payments, while technology demanded that calendrical dates be more uniform. The League recognized that this calendar, a pastiche of fourteen unbalanced, irregular, and ever-changing calendars, was inadequate for handling the complex scheduling of modern industrial importing and exporting and doubted it could keep up with worldwide spread of technology. This was in 1923. This perpetually expiring, constantly changing calendar can be only that much more unsuitable for today's enormous technological advances.

What was the result of this Special Inquiry? After sorting through over five hundred proposals, one hundred and fifty-seven calendrical plans from thirty-six countries were submitted to the League of Nations at the summit meeting in 1929. Of these, the League favored two proposals above all others. Both were "fixed" calendars.

What exactly does "fixed" mean? The Gregorian calendar is not fixed; instead it changes continuously, requiring us to purchase new calendars every year, since the calendar repeats itself only every fourteenth year. It is annoying to consult dates from year to year since they always differ, and to be perplexed by the puzzle of matching dates to days. A fixed or "perennial" calendar is one that remains static so that, for instance, Thanksgiving is always November twenty-third, and January first is always a Sunday. Advocates of fixed calendars argue that they would be helpful to businesses: when dates are the same in any given year, scheduling is easier and budget and productivity analyses simpler to compute. Work vacations and school activities and holidays are likewise easier to plan. Aside from helping us keep track of days by providing us with a stable calendar with dates that don't change, a fixed calendar would allow us to save a lot of money. If we did not need to buy new calendars every year, then we would not pay for the cutting down of the trees, or pay to manage all of the equipment (from running factory conveyer belts to financing a calendar model photo shoot,) it takes to produce calendars. Perpetually changing wall calendars aren't our only expense. Today we have desk calendars, date books, and calendars on all of our computers and computer programs, too. Of the two calendars favored by the League in 1929, the International Fixed Calendar, promoted by George Eastman of the Eastman Kodak Corporation, was initially well-supported by many member nations. This calendar would prove too radical because of its thirteen-month structure, however. In 1937, after eight years in competition with the other calendar brought to the League's attention, it disappeared altogether. The second calendar was the World Calendar, and Elisabeth's fight for its acceptance had just begun.

Elisabeth Achelis was born in Brooklyn, NY, the daughter of Fritz Achelis, a very successful German-American businessman. The president of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, Fritz Achelis was also the president of the American Hard Rubber Company, a venture enjoying its hey-day in the age of the automobile boom. Never present without wearing the earrings given to her by her brother to help distinguish herself from her twin sister, even though the fashion of the day deemed earrings most improper for ladies of distinct bearing, Elisabeth was an attractive woman with stern, gray-blue eyes, meticulously-chosen clothing, who always wore her straight hair in a neat plait or bun. Normally reserved and quite shy, she became robust and assertive when talking about her favorite subject, calendar reform.

Elisabeth wanted to journey along a different path from that of her identical twin who traveled extensively and leisurely with her husband and child. While her sister Margaret chose a life of simple domesticity and lavish dinner parties in her Connecticut home, Elisabeth Achelis was far from content to remain yet another New York millionaire heiress on her affluent neighborhood block. For a while her work as a nurse for the Red Cross during World War I helped fulfill the need to do something different, but she ached to do much more.

In 1929 she attended a lecture at the fashionable and posh Lake Placid Club given by the club's owner, Dr. Melvil Dewey, who would soon go on to develop the Dewey decimal system. Dr. Dewey spoke about simplifying life, and his talk centered on the benefits of standardization for world peace and for successful business. He pointed out the greatness of standardized railroad time, the metric system, and decimalized currency, prophesizing the global reach of these socio-economic constructs. Finally, he mentioned a thirteen-month calendar. This was Eastman's calendar, and though Elisabeth was electrified by the idea of calendar reform and returned home believing she now had a cause, she knew that a notion as radical as the thirteen-month calendar would never be a workable solution. Two weeks after this enlightening event transpired, Elisabeth came across Lewis Ashbaugh's letter to the New York Times editor, propelling her altruistic desire into action, and she began her crusade to implement The World Calendar into use in every country across the globe.

As a single woman of the 1930s Elisabeth did a rare thing by charging straight into the heart of political and social reform. She wanted to do something that would promote global harmony, order, balance, and stability-the four words that later would surround The World Calendar seal. She chose to pour her money and time into a nearly impossible mission. In preparation for an interview by Collier's in 1949, Elisabeth would later write:

"I am not a millionaire in the sense of Doris Duke, Barbara Hutton and others of vast means. An inheritance was left me by my father which I felt I would like to give in service for my fellow men. I did not wish to use this wealth for myself alone by acquiring more possessions and devoting it to selfish means or personal ends. Not being married and being free from family responsibilities, I was in a good position to do so."

How does this calendar, which Elisabeth would go on to espouse so vehemently, work? In The World Calendar, every year is the same. When you look at The World Calendar, you see that there are four quarters (or rows) of three months apiece. Each quarter begins on a Sunday and ends on a Saturday. The first month has thirty-one days while the next two months have thirty days each. This is the symmetrical balance to which Elisabeth constantly refers in all of her correspondence, speeches, and articles. In an editorial in the Department Store Economist, August 1946, Elisabeth wrote: "The World Calendar in its rhythmic and mathematical arrangement has the added advantage of perfect coordination and cooperation among the various time-units within every quarter-year, and offers an ideal pattern for greater harmony, order and equality." The World Calendar is proportional because each quarter is the same as the others, and each column of months is the same as the other two columns. This means there are 364 days in the year, and ninety-one days in each quarter.

Where the asterisks are, an "intercalary" day is inserted between Saturday December thirtieth and Sunday January first to make 365 days, and every four years, another blank day gets added between Saturday June thirtieth and Sunday July first. The source of occassional reference to these days as "blank" days comes about because they are assigned neither a day name (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) nor a numbered date (the thirty-first). It is with these actual, though intercalary, days in place that the balance of the calendar is undisturbed. The World Calendar makers designated these as "Worldsdays," or days that Elisabeth Achelis and her supporters proclaimed should be reserved as world holidays to be celebrated throughout the globe. Afghanistan, Canada, Mexico, Honduras, and several other countries decreed that they would give their endorsements to the plan only if all nations promised to celebrate, so much did they love the idea of global holidays. And, as Australia would later advocate, for purposes of record keeping, activities occurring on Worldsdays could be said to occur on the thirty-firsts of June and December. Elisabeth eventually agreed to this alteration, leading Australia and nine other nations to give their full support to the new calendar.

Noting that in The World Calendar March, May, and August have thirty days instead of thirty-one, February has two more days (the twenty-ninth and thirtieth), and April (and June on leap years) gains a thirty-first day may present a problem for some. However, by thinking about how much upheaval a thirteen-month calendar would propagate, the impact of these changes seems to subside. As a 1966 New York Times editorial pointed out in its support of The World Calendar plan, it might actually be good to lose a few of these dates. For example, the August 31, 1919 anniversary of the Communist Labor Party in Chicago would no longer necessarily be celebrated. And, though the March 31, 1958 date when the Soviet Union decide to ban nuclear testing would be history, so would the date three years later when, on August 31, 1958, the Soviet Union started testing again.

Perhaps the greatest pitfall of this calendrical plan is that we grew up accepting, and then expecting, that our birthdays will be on different weekday each year. Elisabeth believed that we should strive to overcome this personal concern, and instead we should "have the satisfaction of sacrificing something for order, harmony, unity, and cooperation." She believed that the very reason we have calendars is to provide some order for our lives and life events, so this should be our priority when thinking in terms of reform. As we lament that our birthdays would always be on Mondays, or Thursdays, Elisabeth reminds us to think about the whole world agreeing on one force united and looking toward world peace. Under The World Calendar plan, leap year babies would get their birthdays back, while those born on the thirty-firsts of March, May and August would "lose" their birthdays, so they may choose to celebrate on the thirtieth of the month, just as the leap year babies now celebrate their special day on the twenty-eighth. Of course, once The World Calendar has been in use for a while, this point of contention would become obsolete, and new babies would be born on the new dates.

The World Calendar is not radically different from the Gregorian calendar, and the Gregorian reforms were not exceedingly severe either, yet those reforms-which adjusted the calendar so that it could accommodate for a leap year day every four years-have helped us keep track of time tremendously, and so these reform measures could affect the way we measure time in an equally impacting way. Since life today is strikingly different from the daily events of 1582, why not modify it now to reflect our modern world? The benefits of The World Calendar are clear: with one calendar for all years to come, we are able to visualize important dates many weeks, months, even years in advance. This makes planning for an event in the distant future simpler, and helps people throughout the world keep track of these events in tandem. Because Elisabeth often had to make her pitch quickly, as she was often limited to scarcely a few minutes during large, multi-national forums, she spoke about The World Calendar's ability to achieve harmony, order, balance and stability, and its power to promote world peace. But what does she mean by this? Are these words not mere abstractions that mask Elisabeth's inability to state concretely just how The World Calendar could be better than our current calendar? She used the Journal of Calendar Reform, which was distributed as a free publication each month to over 20,000 schools, institutions, and libraries, to make her practical case.

"The Calendar Belongs to Everybody," the inside front cover ads boast, and the subsequent pages explain how this is so. Industry, Elisabeth explains, should demand a stable, accurate, comparable calendar in which weekdays will regularly fall on the same month-dates, and in which holidays will always come on the same days and dates every year. A corporation consists of many departments. One department deals with temporary workers whose rates are computed on a daily basis. Another has permanent employees whose pay envelopes are distributed every week or semi-monthly. Another, in charge of shipping or transportation, uses the month for its records. The major financing overhead is computed on a quarterly or semi-annual basis. Under the Gregorian Calendar, with its shifting dates and numbers of days per time unit, this kind of calculating is immensely complicated and causes many problems when creating budgets or accounting for holiday pay. The quarter-divisions of The World Calendar contain an even number of days or weeks or months, which simplifies the assembling and tabulating of financial statements.

Every department of the Federal Government would also benefit from this symmetry. The Department of Labor keeps careful track of employment and industrial turnover; the Department of Commerce keeps statistics constantly adjusted to domestic and foreign trade; the Department of Agriculture prepares data that keep the nation's farmers informed of important trends in crops and markets; the Treasury must compare records on customs receipts, income taxes, internal revenue collections, and interest paid and received; and other government departments-State, Interior, Army, Navy, etc. all need to regulate their spending and tabulate the use of their funds. To the government, the day, week, month and quarter are all of equal importance. So, The World Calendar, perpetual in that all these time units meet on the last day of every quarter (91 days or 13 weeks or 3 months) is of incalculable value.

The most common quarterly tax is the Federal Income Tax. At present, the 15ths of April, June, September and January, on which payments fall due, constantly shift as to weekday and are awkward to figure with and to remember. And, when one of the payment dates is a Sunday, it is necessary to provide for tax payments on Monday. In The World Calendar the four 15ths of March, June, September and December fall always (every year, of course) on Friday, the last full day of a business week-the most practical weekday for such payments.

There are two advantages of The World Calendar that appeal particularly to lawyers. They are the division of the year into quarters of equal lengths, and the fact that a month-date always comes on the same weekday. When presenting a case in court, it is imperative that lawyers are precise in their language, and when referring to a legal quarter, it would be wonderful for them to mean always the same number of days. Also, one has to say "the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November" to mean Election Day, for example; lawyers have to be careful not to use such loose description as "the last and fourth" Monday, Tuesday etc., since a certain month under the Gregorian calendar may have five such days. A perpetual calendar, wherein the first Tuesday in February is always the 7th, the third Friday in March is always the 15th, etc. would simplify matters greatly.

Court terms usually begin on the first day of the month. For example, the Clerk of the Supreme Court may give notice that the Court will reconvene on the first Monday in October. This would be a variable date in our present calendar and so it is a hassle to determine without leafing through calendrical pages, but in the World Calendar, the Clerk may be more precise and always say that the Court will reconvene on Monday, October 2nd.

Under some State laws , schools must include 180 teaching days. But, the first half of the year, under the present calendar, contains a different number of days than the second half of the year. Also, school holidays must be rescheduled every year. Making these adjustments costs money, time, and is one of the biggest headaches to education administration each and every year. The World Calendar would alleviate such problems.

Elisabeth goes on to explain how the spheres of agriculture, labor, science, home, and religion all likewise benefit from The World Calendar. She seems to have all of the confidence in the world that her system makes sense for everybody, in part because as a devout Protestant, she attributed her epiphany about calendar reform and The World Calendar to divine intervention. Naturally she first asked her pastor about her plan, and in the February 19, 1938, issue of Liberty Magazine he recalled that he had told her he "saw nothing irreligious in calendar revision. Many clergymen of all faiths," he said, "were girding against the idea of moveable feasts." When Elisabeth laid her scheme before her lawyer, he exclaimed, "Heavens! What this would do to straighten out terms of court!" And, when Elisabeth called on the president of her bank, she heard, "Whoever thought of that calendar should have the blessing of every accountant!"

While this affirmation was surely propelling, Elisabeth knew that to go forward with her plan she had to test the world's people, not just her own neighbors. She turned next to her own city, then her own country, and finally turned her attention to the world, where it would remain until her death. She had only a few months before she needed to submit it to the League. At social banquets and teas at high profile New York establishments such as the Colony Club, she captivated the table by speaking about her scheme in well-modulated, forceful tones. Even if her audience consisted initially of socialite wives who took to calling her affectionately the "Calendar Lady," they were startled by the obvious passion in her normally reserved manner. At one such dinner, as reported in the New York Herald Tribune, she followed her regular course of propagandizing her dinner partners on the neatness of her calendar. Across the table from her, one dinner guest listened intently, then commented: "Interesting, but no one would die for such a cause." With complete sincerity, Elisabeth replied, "I would."

Though she was never asked to die for her calendar, she did go to great lengths to promote it, even at venues where it seemed entirely inappropriate for her to do so. During a 1940 radio broadcast of the popular show, Luncheon at the Waldorf, she shocked her hosts by demonstrating her business prowess when she interrupted a Camel Cigarettes jingle to begin her homily. Host Ilka recaptured her show by saying, "Well, good luck to you, Miss Achelis, and a merry World Holiday. Now, I'd like you to meet the sweetest person I know. Why shouldn't she be-her hobby is making candy?" On the written transcript of this show, Elisabeth had crossed out the candy-maker's name, and had corrected all misspelled words and fixed the grammatical errors. She was indomitable, and if she couldn't excite the housewives of America because they would rather talk about confectioner's sugar, she would at least try.

She soon extended herself beyond her social circle, believing she would find elsewhere advocates with equally deep pockets but who might be inclined to take stock in her brand of proselytism. One of these early meetings was described in the December 30, 1939, issue of The New Yorker, inside of which Elisabeth was the subject of the feature "Profiles." "How foolish we would feel," she told the Present Day Club at Princeton reportedly, "if every year on January first we had to throw away our last year's clocks and watches, our tape measures and our kitchen scales, so that we could install clocks with new and different hours, tape measures with a different arrangement of inches, and scales with a different set of pounds and ounces!" She spent her time wisely and generated enough support that The World Calendar was so well received in Geneva at the meeting of the International Labor Organization that the League promised to spend some money and time researching it. From then on, Elisabeth worked tirelessly to promote her plan. After copyrighting The World Calendar and description to prevent either from being changed, she set up the non-profit American office of The World Calendar Association. She then gathered a small staff that worked equally hard to publish pamphlets and, starting in 1931, the Journal of Calendar Reform. The Journal was published annually for twenty-five years, during which time Elisabeth also wrote four books on the subject. On each and every piece of correspondence, Elisabeth lists the dates of both calendars, like this:

Present Calendar: April 26, 1939 The World Calendar: April 25, 1939

Even when the dates coincide, as they do from September through January, she lists them both to demonstrate how infrequently even a mild change would occur.

By this point, Elisabeth and her constituents had generated a huge amount of interest and worldwide support. In 1936, Elisabeth moved the American office The World Calendar Association, Incorporated, from its cramped space on Madison Avenue into office 903, in the International Building at 630 Fifth Avenue, a unit of Rockefeller Center. Elisabeth would later say about this relocation that, "an international work, such as calendar reform, required an international building and surroundings, which the many flags at the west side of the open square, denoting the member nations of the United Nations, so fittingly represented." She chose suite number 903 because it added up to twelve, for the twelve months of the year. An exhibit of The World Calendar was also set up on "permanent display" at the Museum of Science and Industry at Rockefeller Center. Foster Vineyard, agent for the then-neighboring Aetna Life Insurance Company, noticed the exhibit, and took the time to write to The World Calendar Association and request more information, which he then sent on to his colleague in Arkansas, who revealed that he had just attended a talk at the Rotary Club there, and was equally impressed. Foster wrote that although the World Calendar "is not going to be done soon, it certainly is a constructive idea, and it occurs to me that this would be an excellent program for us." Likewise, W.S. Lacher, Secretary of the American Railway Engineering Association, had been visiting the New York office from his headquarters in Chicago when he came across the display. His excitement prompted him to write a letter to the association that expressed his accordance with the proposal, and that it could be very helpful to the railway industry.

Once the American press had picked up on her crusade, and staffers in her offices were responding to the thousands of letters of endorsements then pouring in, Elisabeth went on tours of Europe, South America, Africa, and Asia. By 1937, the thirteen-month calendar was but a quirky memory, and Chile-backed by Panama, Uruguay, China, Cuba, Brazil, Canada, France, and several other IWCA member nations-submitted to the League of Nations a draft convention for the adoption of The World Calendar, the text of which was soon issued to all governments worldwide. Fourteen nations immediately endorsed the proposal, while only six opposed it, and the other ten voting nations, such as Norway, sought to endorse it if it gained international acceptance. However, the League Council decreed that the time was not quite right to hold a conference for calendar reform, but more money could go into the research and education of The World Calendar. Elisabeth had been hoping for more. Since 1923, when the League first started looking at calendar reform seriously, the League had stopped short of endorsing her calendar every time, and now in 1937 it did so yet again. They seemed quite fond of looking at it; what was keeping them from implementing it? Most certainly the new war that was brewing in Europe commanded the League's attention, and as the war strengthened the League itself disbanded.

Undaunted, Elisabeth took the funds that the League had dispensed and forged ahead. In 1943, continuing her now common practice of soliciting worldwide support by visiting with as many national world leaders as possible, in four days Elisabeth circumnavigated the globe by hovering around the US Department of State in Washington. On March 22nd, she met independently with the ambassadors of Panama and Mexico. On the 23rd she saw the leaders of Peru, Chile, and the U.S. Department of State. On the 24th she had an 11:00am meeting with the First Secretary of the Argentine Embassy, at 3:30pm she met with China's Excellency, and at 4:30 she held counsel with Uruguay's Prime Minister. On the 25th she sat in on the fourth meeting of the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the twenty-one Pan American countries, then spoke to its Director, next went to the Brazilian Consulate, and finished the epic conversation with Mr. Orekov, ambassador to the U.S.S.R.. The result of all of these talks was that each and every one of these governments, while interested in the World Calendar plan, would not take the initiative, but would most certainly endorse and adopt the new calendar if the United States would take the leadership.

With this kind of instigation, Elisabeth stayed in Washington, moving her belongings to a downtown hotel room, to lobby for reform for the next few years. Her efforts came together in 1946, the Second World War at last at an end, when the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States Congress considered a bill for the adoption of The World Calendar. In 1947, the bill was reintroduced, and the Peruvian government brought a draft resolution for The World Calendar before the newly created Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. However, UNESCO needed to expend its time and energy pasting its many war-torn agencies and broken policies back together. Just as the League had done in 1923 at the conclusion of the first World War, the U.N. promised to look into calendar reform again in the near future at a more convenient time.

In spite of being put off yet again, Elisabeth courageously refused to be rubbed out and instead stepped up her efforts in response to this latest stall of her plan. She soon had delegates in forty-six countries generating funds (this time the U.N. did not put money into Elisabeth's hands; their finances were tied up in efforts to clean up areas ravaged by war, and in trying to maintain a still-fragile peacetime) and educating foreign politicians, religious figureheads, business leaders, and social reformers about the benefits of The World Calendar. In 1948, deciding this time to see the world leaders in their own countries, within three short months Elisabeth flew 15,626 miles to every country in Central and South America, and then to Europe and Asia, finishing up the year in Africa, all the while talking with these continents' presidents, ambassadors, bishops, admirals, and Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Education and Defense.

The Journal of Calendar Reform also helped her to continue to spread the word, and upon learning the power of the press, she began making influential friends at foreign newspapers. Her new friends did not disappoint her. In 1949, articles about The World Calendar were published in thirty-two French newspapers. Also in that same year, The Journal issued a special International Edition and overseas' representatives published their reports therein, highlighting their progress in countries spanning the globe from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia. Many worldwide organizations, such as The International Labor Organization, the International Astronomical Union, the World Federation of Education Association, also endorsed Elisabeth's calendar.

At home, hundreds of chambers of commerce, and scientific, religious, educational, and business organizations likewise gave their endorsements. One Associated Press article, in which the Amateur Athletic Union's secretary was pictured smiling and reading a World Calendar brochure with the Association's director, was printed in 680 newspapers, generated $16,464 of free publicity, and reached a new sphere; that of the sports world. Also at home Elisabeth had one of the greatest thrills of her life, when she returned to the still-prestigious Lake Placid Club to give a lecture on calendar reform, exactly twenty years since Dr. Dewey had first inspired her. In enormous letters under the club's mid-day meal menu, Elisabeth Achelis was listed as the featured guest speaker under the sponsorship of the Lake Placid Education Foundation.

Elisabeth's efforts were being rewarded; she had made the Who's Who list, was interviewed in most national magazines and newspapers, and was lifted from obscurity into the national spotlight. However, from the start Elisabeth made it clear that this calendar would be the answer to the world's problems, and she would not be content to let her passion rise and fall in the course of American sensationalism. She saw a worldwide need for a calendar that would make great economical sense, and which might also unite the peoples of the world, as well as the many diverse peoples of individual countries. Some countries, like India for example, have had to rely upon many, many different unrelated calendars. India has so many different religions and languages that it seemed impossible that the whole country could use one calendar.

Back in 1931, Elisabeth had traveled with friend, adviser and former foreign Associated Press correspondent Charles D. Morris to see Mahatma Gandhi. They discovered he was quite conversant with The World Calendar movement, and so they squatted on the floor with him, where he was spinning, and talked about the calendar for almost an hour. This conversation resulted in Gandhi's penning of the following letter to Elisabeth Achelis, published in the first Journal of Calendar Reform:

"In India there are several calendars in current use. Several racial groups have their own calendars, in which the year begins on a different date and ends on a different date. In these calendars different holidays are observed, which results in much confusion. It would be a splendid thing if our 350,000,000 people could have a single national unified calendar. As most of the Indian calendars are arranged on a twelve-month basis, it would obviously be easier to meet on this common ground. I am in favor of such a calendar. I am in favor of a standardized calendar for the whole world, just as I am in favor of a unified coinage for all countries. I have been informed of, and I welcome, the international movement for calendar reform. I am always ready to endorse any honest movement which will help unify the peoples of the world. "

Elisabeth was tireless in her movement to communicate with as many influential world leaders as she could. Morris noted of her hard campaigning, "When she goes to Europe, do you suppose she hangs around the Lido under an umbrella? No, she consorts with kings and prime ministers, and gets their respectful attention."

Advancing to 1953, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, newly-independent India would be the country to present The World Calendar to the United Nations for the final time under Elisabeth's direct sponsorship. Although many nations would keep their own calendars for social, cultural and religious events, most agreed that it would be advantageous to use one calendar that would unite them all. From New Delhi, on February 18, 1953, Prime Minister Nehru wrote:

"I am glad that the Calendar Reform Committee has started its labours. The Government of India has entrusted to it the work of examining the different calendars followed in this country and to submit proposals to the Government for an accurate and uniform calendar based on a scientific study for the whole of India. I am told that we have at present thirty different calendars, differing from each other in various ways, including the methods of time reckoning. These calendars are the natural result of our past political and cultural history and partly represent past political divisions in the country. Now that we have attained independence, it is obviously desirable that there should be a certain uniformity in the calendar for our civic, social and other purposes and that this should be based on a scientific approach to this problem.

It is always difficult to change a calendar to which people are used, because it affects social practices. But the attempt has to be made even though it may not be as complete as desired. In any event, the present confusion in our own calendars in India ought to be removed. I hope that our Scientists will give a lead in this matter."

When The World Calendar appeared before the United Nations in 1955, it was the eighth time the calendar had been presented. There never seemed to be a good time to talk calendar reform during the thirties and forties, as World War II and other multi-nation conflicts grabbed all attention. In the late forties and fifties, many reforms attempted to resurrect damaged economies around the globe and to stabilize and improve international relations, and so calendar reform bided its time at the end of a long list of these broken systems. By 1955, Elisabeth Achelis was sure that the time was finally right for the world to formally accept her beloved calendar.

However, on March 21, 1955, the Department of State announced to the United Nations that the U.S. Government did not favor any action by the United Nations to change the calendar. The United States took its position in a note transmitted by Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., U.S. Representative to the United Nations, the text of which is reprinted here:

"The United States Government does not favor any action by the United Nations to revise the present calendar. This Government cannot in any way promote a change of this nature, which would intimately affect every inhabitant of this country, unless such a reform were favored by a substantial majority of the citizens of the United States acting through their representatives in the Congress of the United States. There is no evidence of such support in the United States for calendar reform. Large numbers of United States citizens oppose the plan for calendar reform that is now before the Economic and Social Council. Their opposition is based on religious grounds, since the introduction of a "blank day" at the end of each year would disrupt the seven-day sabbatical cycle.

Moreover, this Government holds that it would be inappropriate for the United Nations, which represents many different religious and social beliefs throughout the world, to sponsor any revision of the existing calendar that would conflict with the principles of important religious faiths.

This Government, furthermore, recommends that no further study of the subject should be undertaken. Such a study would require the use of manpower and funds which could be more usefully devoted to more vital and urgent tasks. In view of the current studies of the problem being made individually by governments in the course of preparing their views for the Secretary-General in 1947, it is felt that any additional study of the subject at this time would serve no useful purpose. "

This statement enraged the Indian Government who, with praise for and gratitude to Elisabeth, had proudly re-introduced The World Calendar proposal to the United Nations. They took Henry Cabot Lodge Jr.'s words as a personal and outrageous affront-since they themselves are arguably the best example of the type of nation of "many different religious and social beliefs" mentioned. The countries that supported India also felt rebuffed. Unfortunately, since Elisabeth and her thousands of followers pushed largely for a calendar to be used by all nations, when a few nations balked and without U.S. endorsement, they all caved in and calendar reform was effectively tabled.

Elisabeth did not disappear, however. She did retire as president one year later and collapsed the American office of The World Calendar Association, since it could no longer go on as a non-profit entity. The Journal of Calendar Reform also ceased publication in 1956. But her International World Calendar Association continued under new leadership and Elisabeth found the time to sit down to write her autobiography. In it she reflects on the irony that her own country succeeded (but only for the moment, she stresses) in shutting her out, and her sadness that the U.S. let so many countries down. She calls the need for additional study "utter nonsense" since more than two dozen studies had been completed on calendar reform since 1923, citing that this was a poor excuse for discontinuance of reform. Also, she was disgusted to read that the reform measures would be refused on the basis of religious grounds. Many Christian and Muslim leaders, rabbis, Hindu priests, and Asian monks had endorsed or found no dogmatic objection to The World Calendar. It seemed the U.S. Government had missed the point entirely. Its usefulness as an economic and business tool was undisputed, but The World Calendar also had the power to unite the world. Whether or not people would use it for social and cultural benefit was their own choice.

As for the "large numbers of United States citizens who opposed the plan," well, that was pure fiction, according to Elisabeth. The government had never conducted such polls, and her own figures confirmed quite opposite findings. But if the only people who opposed the plan were those she had not yet educated, we can see where Elisabeth stumbled. With all of the attention she raised, judging from the copious amount of support trumpeted by high-ranking, international officials, Elisabeth failed to educate the public, both at home and overseas. Ignorance and apathy seem to be the reason The World Calendar did not gain international acceptance in the first half of the century.

The giant rulers of vast kingdoms of past civilizations-Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire's emperor-extraordinaire, and Pope Gregory, a papal sovereign-were the deciding forces that drove the calendrical reforms in their epochs. The United Nations held that same power to determine change in the twentieth century. Elisabeth was right to solicit support first from national leaders, so that they would in turn incite their representatives in the League of Nations, and then the U.N., to support calendar reform. Simultaneously, though, Elisabeth needed to excite the masses. Though she did recognize the power of the press, she did not use it to reach out to more popular and larger newspapers, and instead reports of her crusade found their way into smaller or obscure newspapers.

Jacques Tirouflet, a French journalist who published an article on The World Calendar in one such small Swiss newspaper in 1948, made this summary statement: "If political stability is set up, if a peaceful harmony is lastingly attained, for the greatest good of economic relations, adoption of The World Calendar will no longer seem only a Utopia in the far-distant days, it will be vehemently sought by the entire world."

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Last updated 23 September 2011