May 19, 2016 By Lily Rothman This week's TIME cover story goes inside the national controversy over transgender bathroom access and the larger stakes of the fight. As part of that story, Maya Rhodan and I traced the fraught political history of public toilets. That the story is so complicated may seem surprising, but it does make sense: bathrooms are where the public and the private converge, and not always easily. That's something Maya explored earlier this week in a story about why we even have men's and women's rooms in the first place. After all, it's easy to imagine a world in which bathrooms all evolved as single-stall affairs. As she learned, the existence of American men's and women's rooms can be traced back to the emergence of shared indoor plumbing just as women were going to work in new factories. Meanwhile, looking at a different moment in bathroom history, Katie Reilly examined Attorney General Loretta Lynch's choice to compare North Carolina's strict bathroom-usage law to Jim Crow segregation. She found that, in at least one way, the comparison was apt: the bathroom was the stage for some of the civil right's movements toughest fights. As Carlotta Walls LaNier—one of the original Little Rock Nine—told Katie, "History wants to continue to repeat itself." Here's more of the history that made news this week:
Neighbors 2's sorority story may be party-centric, but the real origins of such societies have more to do with the Civil War and sexism
FROM THE TIME VAULT
Today in 1967: Johnny Carson
"Whether they are in bed or chairs, the viewers' reward is the most consistently entertaining 90 minutes to be seen anywhere on television. Tonight was a lively enough show in the five years when it was run by that mercurial madcap Jack Paar, but since Carson took over in 1962, it has become brighter, smoother and more sophisticated. Carson's opening six-minute monologue is generally humorous, despite an unfortunate preoccupation with bathroom jokes." (May 19, 1967) Read the full story
Remembering China's Cultural Revolution
"This week TIME's cover story, a lengthy excerpt from Chinese Author Nien Cheng's Life and Death in Shanghai, is a memoir of a very different kind. History will record not that the author shaped large events but that she simply survived to write a gripping personal account of her imprisonment between 1966 and 1973, during China's Cultural Revolution. Cheng, now 72, whose only crime was being born into a wealthy, land-owning Chinese family, was thrown into solitary confinement and ordered by Red Guards to confess to made-up crimes. She refused. Her captors finally released her in the mistaken belief that she was dying of cancer." (June 8, 1987) Read the full story
Today in 1997: Steven Spielberg
"Spielberg, whose net worth Forbes recently estimated at $1 billion, may be immune to those temporal lead weights; the fellow who makes movies everyone wants to see is not like everyone else. 'People like Steven don't come along every day,' says his friend and frequent collaborator George Lucas, 'and when they do, it's an amazing thing. It's like talking about Einstein or Babe Ruth or Tiger Woods. He's not in a group of filmmakers his age; he's far, far away.'" (May 19, 1997) Read the full story
HIGHLIGHTS FROM AROUND THE WEB
Nazi Cuisine Reddit's "AskHistorians" is always a source for surprising questions and answers, and this recent example caught my eye: a user asks whether the Nazi ideology affected what was considered "haute cuisine" in Germany at the time, and an expert explains how—even if fancy French food was still considered the best—food played a large role in Nazi propaganda.
History in his Genes For the New York Times 'Profiles in Science' series, Carl Zimmer writes about Eske Willerslev, a Danish geneticist who works with ancient DNA samples learn about human life thousands of years ago.
Artifacts of Violence At Process, historian Cameron B. Strang takes a look at the fact that George Zimmerman, in attempting to sell the gun he used to shoot Trayvon Martin, advertised the gun as a piece of American history.
Objectified This isn't new but it's still worth sharing: Atavist hosts "Adventures with Objects," by Rob Walker, a companion to an ongoing Smithsonian exhibition about how objects change the world as they progress from luxury items to everyday necessities.