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|Centuries:||18th century – 19th century – 20th century|
|Decades:||1850s 1860s 1870s – 1880s – 1890s 1900s 1910s|
|Years:||1878 1879 1880 – 1881 – 1882 1883 1884|
Year 1881 (MDCCCLXXXI) was a common year starting on Saturday (link will display the full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar (or a common year starting on Thursday of the 12-day slower Julian calendar).
Events of 1881
January - March
- January 16- January 24 - Siege of Geok Tepe - Russian troops under general Skobeleff defeat Turkomans.
- January 24 - William Edward Forster, the chief secretary for Ireland, introduces his Coercion Bill: it goes through a long debate before it is accepted February 2.
- January 25 - Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell form the Oriental Telephone Company.
- February 2 - Parkfield Earthquake occurs.
- February 5 - Phoenix, Arizona is incorporated.
- February 13 - First issue of the feminist newspaper La Citoyenne is published by Hubertine Auclert.
- February 19 - Kansas became the first U.S. state to prohibit all alcoholic beverages.
- March 12 - Andrew Watson makes his Scotland debut as the world's first black international football player.
- March 13 - Alexander II of Russia is killed near his palace when a bomb is thrown at him. He is succeeded by his son, Alexander III.
April - June
- April 14 - Four Dead in Five Seconds Gunfight erupted in El Paso, Texas.
- April 15 - Temuco, Chile founded.
- April 21 - The University of Connecticut is founded as the Storrs Agricultural School.
- April 25 - Caulfield Grammar School is founded in Melbourne, Australia.
- April 28 - Billy the Kid escapes from his two jailers at the Lincoln County jail in Mesilla, New Mexico, killing James Bell and Robert Ollinger before stealing a horse and riding out of town.
- May 12 - In North Africa, Tunisia becomes a French protectorate.
- May 21 - The American Red Cross is established by Clara Barton.
- May 21 - The United States Tennis Association is established by a small group of tennis club members.
- June 12 - The USS Jeannette is crushed in an Arctic Ocean ice pack.
July - September
- July 1 - General Order 70, the culmination of the Cardwell-Childers reforms of the British Army's organization, came into effect.
- July 2 - James Abram Garfield, President of the United States is shot by lawyer Charles Julius Guiteau. He survives the assassination attempt but he suffers from infection of his wound.
- July 4 - In Alabama, the Tuskegee Institute opens.
- July 14 - Billy the Kid is shot and killed by Pat Garrett outside Fort Sumner.
- July 20 - Indian Wars: Sioux chief Sitting Bull leads the last of his fugitive people in surrender to United States troops at Fort Buford in Montana.
- August 3 - Pretoria Convention peace treaty signed, officially ending the war between the Boers and Britain.
- August 27 - A hurricane hits Florida and Carolinas: about 700 die.
- September 5 - The Thumb Fire in the U.S. state of Michigan destroys over a million acres (4,000 km²) and kills 282 people.
- September 12 - Francis Howell High School (Howell Institute) in St. Charles, Missouri, and Stephen F. Austin High School in Austin, Texas open on the same day, putting them in a tie for the title of oldest public high school west of the Mississippi River.
- September 19 - US President James A. Garfield dies. Vice President Chester Arthur becomes the 21st President of the United States.
October - December
- October 26 - Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona, USA.
- October 29 - Judge (US magazine) is first published.
- November 11 - The Clarkson Memorial in Wisbech was completed and unveiled to the public.
- November 19 - A meteorite struck earth near the village of Großliebenthal, a few kilometers southwest of Odessa, Ukraine.
- December 5 - The 47th US Congress (1881-83) convenes.
- December 8 - At least 620 die in fire at the Ring Theatre, Vienna.
- December 28 - Virgil Earp was ambushed in Tombstone and loses the use of his left arm.
- New York City's oldest independent school for girls, the Convent of the Sacred Heart New York (91st Street), is founded.
- Edward Rudolf founded the 'Church of England Central Society for Providing Homes for Waifs and Strays' (now The Children's Society).
- The Pali Text Society is founded.
- University College Dublin is established in Ireland.
- The United States National Lawn Tennis Association (USNLTA) is founded, and the first U.S. Tennis Championships are played.
- Founding of the League of the Three Emperors.
- Some Vatican archives opened to scholars for the first time.
- Abilene, Texas is founded.
- Newcastle United F.C. is founded as Stanley F.C., with a further name change to Newcastle East End F.C. a few months later.
- Leyton Orient F.C. is founded.
- Minto, North Dakota is founded.
- Rafaela, Argentina is formed.
- Culford School a public school in Suffolk, United Kingdom is founded.
- 18 of 42 slave dealers in Istanbul are women.
|Ab urbe condita||2634|
|British Regnal year||44 Vict. 1 – 45 Vict. 1|
|Chinese calendar|| 庚辰年十二月初二日
— to —辛巳年十一月十一日
|- Vikram Samvat||1937–1938|
|- Shaka Samvat||1803–1804|
|- Kali Yuga||4982–4983|
|- Ǹrí Ìgbò||881–882|
|Japanese calendar|| Meiji 14
|Juche calendar||N/A (before 1912)|
|Julian calendar||Gregorian minus 12 days|
|Minguo calendar||31 before ROC
|Thai solar calendar||2424|
January - June
- January 1 - Vajiravudh, King of Thailand (d. 1925)
- January 9
- January 17 - Antoni Lomnicki, Polish mathematician (d. 1941)
- January 31 - Irving Langmuir, American chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1957)
- February 12 - Anna Pavlova, Russian ballerina (d. 1931)
- March 4
- March 9 - Ernest Bevin, British labour leader, politician, and statesman (d. 1951)
- March 17 - Walter Rudolf Hess, Swiss physiologist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1973)
- March 23
- March 25
- May 14 - G. Murray Hulbert, American politician (d. 1950)
- May 19 - Official birthday of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder and the first President of Turkey (d. 1938)
- May 20 - Władysław Sikorski, Polish general and politician (d. 1943)
- June 17 - Tommy Burns, Canadian-born boxer (d. 1955)
July - December
- July 2 - Royal H. Weller, American politician (d. 1929)
- July 4 - Ulysses S. Grant III, American soldier and planner (d. 1968)
- July 27 - Hans Fischer, German chemist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1945)
- July 30 - Smedley Butler, U.S. general (d. 1940)
- August 6 - Sir Alexander Fleming, Scottish researcher, recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (d. 1955)
- August 19 - Georges Enescu, Romanian composer (d. 1955)
- August 20 - Edgar Guest, English poet (d. 1959)
- September 5 - Otto Bauer, Austrian Social Democratic politician (d. 1938)
- September 8 - Harry Hillman, American athlete (d. 1945)
- September 16 - Clive Bell, English art critic (d. 1964)
- September 17 - Alfred Francis Blakeney Carpenter, English soldier (d. 1955)
- September 26 - Hiram Wesley Evans, Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard (d. 1966)
- October 1 - William Boeing, American engineer and airplane manufacturer (d. 1956)
- October 11 - Hans Kelsen, Austrian legal theorist (d. 1973)
- October 15
- October 22 - Clinton Davisson, American physicist, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1958)
- October 25 - Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter (d. 1973)
- November 5 - George A. Malcolm, American jurist & educator (d. 1961)
- November 14 - Nicholas Schenck, Russian-born film studio executive (d. 1969)
- November 24 - Al Christie, Canadian-born director and producer (d. 1951)
- November 25 - Pope John XXIII (d. 1963)
- November 28 - Stefan Zweig, Austrian writer (d. 1942)
- December 3 - Henry Fillmore, American composer (d. 1956)
- December 24 - Juan Ramón Jiménez, Spanish writer, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1958)
January - June
- January 3 - Anna McNeill Whistler, Whistler's mother (b. 1804)
- January 21 - Wilhelm Matthias Naeff, member of the Swiss Federal Council (b. 1802)
- February 5 - Thomas Carlyle, Scottish writer and historian (b. 1795)
- February 9 - Fyodor Dostoevsky, Russian novelist (b. 1821)
- February 14 - Fernando Wood, New York City Mayor (b. 1812)
- March 13 - Czar Alexander II of Russia (b. 1818)
- March 28 - Modest Mussorgsky, Russian composer (b. 1839)
- April 19 - Benjamin Disraeli, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (b. 1804)
- May 24 - Samuel Palmer, English artist (b. 1805)
- May 25 - Giuseppe Maria Giulietti, Italian explorer (b. 1847)
- June 6 - Henri Vieuxtemps, Belgian composer (b. 1820)
July - December
- July 14 - Billy the Kid, American gunslinger (b. 1859)
- July 17 - Jim Bridger, American explorer and trapper (b. 1804)
- September 7 - Sidney Lanier, American writer (b. 1842)
- September 8 - Prince Frederik of the Netherlands, Dutch noble and general (b. 1797)
- September 19 - James A. Garfield, 20th President of the United States (assassinated) (b. 1831)
- September 22 - Solomon L. Spink, U.S. Congressman from Illinois (b. 1831)
- October 3 - Orson Pratt, American religious leader (b. 1811)
- October 31 - George DeLong, American naval officer and explorer (starvation) (b. 1844)