Finding Women’s History in Unexpected Places
Every summer the NPS and similar organizations hire interns who get first hand experience in what they do and how they operate. Last year, Mary Feitz worked in Omaha for the NPS Midwest Region National Historic Landmark Program where she prepared this article, “Finding Women in Unexpected Places,” for their Fall 2014 newsletter under the supervision of Dr. Michele Curran. Ms. Feitz is in her final year for her M.A. in the Design Program, Historic Preservation, University of Pennsylvania. The National Historic Landmark program originating in 1935 identifies and supports 2700 nationally significant properties that have been carefully nominated and designated.
Domestic Servants at Van Buren’s Lindenwald
“Domestic service,” Patricia West writes, “presented a problem to nineteenth-century Anglo-Americans. Political ideology celebrated republican equality and independence; ‘servitude’ and ‘slavery’ were metaphors for the worst political perils. Domestic ideology glorified the home as an insular ‘haven in a heartless world,’ safe from the discord of public life. Yet these ideals clashed with the wish for household servants, which introduced large numbers of Irish Catholic immigrants into northern homes, blurring the supposedly separate public and private ‘spheres’ and causing that bane of nineteenth-century ‘true womanhood,’ the ‘servant problem.’ West — a historian and curator whose work transformed the interpretation of domestic service in America’s house museums — offers these thoughts in this article from The Hudson Valley Regional Review: A Journal of Regional Studies (September 1992, Volume 9, Number 2). “Domestic service has been a problem for historians, too,” she notes, “because the preponderance of documentary evidence about servants was written by the very Anglo-American employers for whom domestics symbolized the dissonance between cherished ideals and the real world of the nineteenth century.” The article linked here, posted on the website for the Martin Van Buren National Historic Site in Kinderhook, New York, models ways that historic sites grounded in the stories of wealthy elites can incorporate the histories of the working women who made their lives possible.
Women’s History is Everywhere: 10 Ideas for Celebrating In Communities
Women’s History is Everywhere: 10 Ideas for Celebrating In Communities: A How-To Community Handbook, is a resource prepared by The President’s Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History in 1999. Though dated, there are still helpful ideas and insights here. Here are lines from the booklet’s introduction:
“Much of the work done by women, individually as volunteers and as members of clubs and organizations, has occurred in and for the benefit of local communities. Women founded businesses, libraries, hospitals, schools and parks. Women worked side-by- side with the men who are memorialized as heroes in our communities but most women pioneers have gone largely unrecognized; most local historical sites identify only the men who lived there. Whether this is a result of conscious suppression or ignorance, the fact that few women appear in history books or the lore of our heroic ancestors is evident.
To increase awareness of the important roles local women have played throughout American history, the President’s Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History is publishing this handbook to guide communities in recognizing and celebrating local women. Included are suggestions for getting started and many resources to support the organizers as they construct their plans for making women’s history part of the fabric of local community life.”
Teaching With Historic Places posts resources for Women’s History Month
Looking for a way to celebrate women’s history month in the classroom?
For Women’s History Month, TwHP has posted a set of lesson plans designed to help educators of students in upper elementary grades to high school use these sites to teach about women’s lives in the past. The National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places (TwHP) program “uses properties listed in the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places to enliven history, social studies, geography, civics, and other subjects.” Created by NPS interpreters as well as preservation professionals and educators, the lessons — which cover subjects from the Homestead Act to domestic service to the Civil War and Civil Rights — are “free and ready for immediate classroom use by students in history and social studies classes.”
Wish you had a lesson plan about a site closer to home, wherever that may be? You can create your own, and add to the body of lesson plans available to educators nationwide. The TwHP website includes an “Author’s Packet” that aims to help people develop their own lessons based on the TwHP template. Included are instructions to help authors conceptualize, develop and propose their lessons for inclusion in the TwHP program. To get started, browse the database of sites in your area that are already listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Which help tell stories of women’s lives in the past? Where are those stories foregrounded, and where are they present but hidden, just waiting to be brought forward?
Women’s History at the Hermitage: An Interpretive Case Study