The Women & the American Story (WAMS) team is working every day to bring women’s narratives out of the archive and into the classroom. Since going live last March, the free curriculum website has been visited 55,614 times by users from all 50 states and 122 countries. But the party is just getting started: two new units full of materials to enhance the teaching of American history have just launched.
What’s in the New Units?
Settler Colonialism and the Revolution, 1692-1783 traces the development of colonial society and identity up through the crucible of the American Revolution. The unit is divided into two sections: Settler Colonialism, which explores how women’s actions helped shape the late colonial era, and The American Revolution, which considers how women responded to—and participated in—the American Revolution. Materials in both sections speak to the experiences of a wide range of women across spectrums of race, gender, age, and class, bringing the narrative beyond familiar histories of the period. Some of our favorite sources include:
- Quapaw Masterpiece: Unpacking the complex political relationships between Native communities and European colonizers can be challenging, particularly for younger students. This hide, skillfully painted by Quapaw women, provides clues about Quapaw relations with French settlers and neighboring tribes.
- Fashionable Rebellion: Did you know that the Spanish government in Louisiana regulated free black women’s hair? This resource uses a portrait of a woman wearing a tignon to explore how women of color turned a discriminatory law into a powerful fashion statement that celebrated the individuality and culture of the very people it was created to oppress.
- Edenton Tea Party: You’ve probably heard about the Boston Tea Party, but what about the tea boycott that took place in Edenton, North Carolina? In 1774, a group of 50 women signed and published a statement declaring their intention to boycott all British goods. It was the first time in the history of the British colonies that women came together to make a public political declaration. Combine this newspaper with political cartoons from England mocking the event to consider the restrictive context for women’s political action in the era.
- Elizabeth Freeman: When the Declaration of Independence posited that “all men are created equal,” many enslaved people questioned whether this ideal applied to the practice of slavery. Elizabeth Freeman used the idealized language of the Massachusetts state constitution to argue that her enslavement was unconstitutional and won, setting the legal precedent for the abolition of slavery in that state.
Confidence and Crises, 1920-1948 explores dramatic shifts in American society and culture from the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the dawn of the post-war era. The unit is divided into four chronological sections that reflect typical periodization of the U.S. history survey: Jazz Age, Great Depression, World War II, and Post-War. As teachers and students explore these materials, though, they will come to realize that this era was shaped by complex, interwoven social, political, and economic challenges over decades. Some highlights include:
- Anna May Wong: Under the Chinese Exclusion Act, all people of Chinese descent had to carry identification papers proving they were allowed to be in the country. In the midst of constantly having to prove her citizenship, Anna May Wong achieved international fame as a film actor. Her life story explores her career and the racism and stereotyping that she faced in the Exclusion Era United States.
- Sharecropping in a Depression: Photographers like Dorothea Lange, working on behalf of the federal government, took over 175,000 pictures of everyday Americans between 1935 and 1944. This series of images focuses on women’s work and roles in diverse sharecropping households, and the particular challenges they faced.
- Surviving Internment: California-born artist Miné Okubo published a book in 1946 about her experience in the Topaz concentration camp in Utah. This resource uses her illustrations to broaden students’ understanding of life in Japanese American concentration camps.
- Reflecting on the Black Experience: While World War II brought opportunities for black women to serve their country in the military and the defense industries, very little changed for them following the war as Jim Crow (and Jane Crow) policies and violence persisted. These images, created by African American artist Elizabeth Catlett, highlight the challenges black women faced in post-war America.
Where Else Can I Find WAMS?
We’re bringing WAMS to teachers across the country. Thanks to generous support from donors, “WAMS on the Road” sends members of New-York Historical’s Education Division across the country to facilitate teacher professional development workshops and conference presentations.
In November, we were in Austin, TX, for the National Council for the Social Studies conference to speak to teachers excited to use WAMS with their students. We facilitated sessions about our new units, giving attendees the opportunity to workshop classroom-ready strategies for incorporating the materials into their lessons. We can’t wait to see how they put WAMS into action.
In addition to workshops and conferences, we’re also partnering with cultural institutions across the country to help us uncover more women’s voices and serve more teachers. We are grateful to our partners for their collaboration on this important work: the Atlanta History Center; Chicago History Museum; Missouri Historical Society; Oregon Historical Society; and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.
And for those of you who are local, our fall/winter professional development workshop calendar has a wide range of WAMS sessions. Sign up now!
What’s Next for WAMS?
We’re digging into the next units, which will launch on Election Day 2020: A Nation Divided, 1832-1877 and Growth and Turmoil, 1948-1973. WAMS on the Road will continue this spring, with stops already scheduled in seven states. If you’re interested in WAMSing with us, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to bring WAMS to your community.
How Can I Help?
We’re always eager for educators who have used WAMS to let us know how their lessons went and to share their thoughts and comments about the project with us by emailing email@example.com. If you would like to help ensure the WAMS work continues, please donate.
While WAMS was designed as a curriculum for teachers and students, it is full of important histories that are vital, but unknown by most Americans. Anyone can help us spread the word: send WAMS to the educators in your life, and your friends, family, and colleagues. We’ve created social media graphics for you to share on your preferred platform to help us get the word out. Tag us @nyhistory and use #WomenAtTheCenter so we can keep the ball rolling. The WAMS work doesn’t start with the next generation: It starts with us sharing these histories right here, right now. Women’s history is American history, after all.
Written by Mia Nagawiecki, Vice President for Education, New-York Historical Society
Top image: New-York Historical Society, Children’s Aid Society collection