Currently, only 13 percent of the historical figures in history textbooks are women. Why does this matter? As one teacher put it, in his response to our national survey: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” Girls and young women make up more than half of K-12 students and college undergraduates. If women are considered marginal to the narrative of our collective past, history surveys are robbing them of their agency and of their legitimate role as historical actors. It also sends a message to boys and young men that women are less capable, creative, and consequential than men.
Most pointedly, another teacher responding to our survey said, “Women’s history is a huge passion of mine, and yet, I just don’t have the time to do the research.” We hear you! We thank you for the awesome work you do every day! And we are here to help teachers who are committed to teaching women’s history.
Over the next four years, the Education Division here at New-York Historical will create a nine-unit curriculum focused on women’s lives, experiences, contributions, and actions across the full sweep of U.S. history. We are calling it Women and the American Story, and it will be a fully digital, free resource that can be deployed by middle and high school teachers across the country to amplify and augment students’ understanding of the American past. Women helped shape our nation from the very beginning. It is time for their stories to be heard beyond Women’s History Month and to expand what has become the expected cast of characters. Abigail Adams, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks are certainly worth venerating, but there are many, many more names and a vast diversity of experiences students should know.
Working with our Center for Women’s History, we aim to equip teachers with the “stuff” of women’s history—and trust us, there’s a lot of it—which they can bring into their classroom and teach with ease. They will be able to adjust existing lessons or create new ones that are more inclusive and feel more relevant to all students, rather than just half.
The first unit is already up! This year we are developing two more: Early Colonial Women, 1500-1700, and Modernizing America, 1889-1920, which will pilot this summer and officially launch on Election Day 2018 (a mandatory professional development day for New York City public school teachers). Teachers: Save the date!
Watch this space for updates and discoveries as we work on this project. We are excited for you to learn along with us. After all, women’s history is American history. The version of history taught in our classrooms should reflect that.
– Mia Nagawiecki, Vice President of Education
This post is part of our new series, “Women at the Center,” written and edited by the staff of the Center for Women’s History. Look for new posts every Tuesday! Once a month, we will feature posts from our Education Division on teaching women’s history. #womenatthecenter
Top Photo Credits: Teachers participating in a women’s history workshop at New-York Historical Society.