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Putting It All Together

In A Woman's Place Is In the Sewall-Belmont House: Alice Paul and Women's Rights, students learn about Alice Paul, her activist tactics, lobbying strategies, and about how early 20th century women's movements were about more than suffrage. The following activities will provide students with a deeper understanding of American political liberty and activism through independent research and/or interviews.

Activity 1: Organizing for Reform
Students read about several different pro-suffrage organizations in this lesson, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. There were many groups working for women's rights during the 20th century. Break students up into small groups and assign each group one of the organizations. Each group must work together to research their organization and then use what they learned to create a PowerPoint presentation, illustrated with images related to their organization and major points marked with bullets. In the presentations, students should describe the organization's mission, how and why it fought for women's suffrage, the background of its founder or founders, the location of the organization's headquarters, and a brief history of the organization including what the organization did after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Have each group present its PowerPoint to the class. You might also consider arranging to have students give their presentations to other classes or at an event hosted by the local historical society, museum, or library.

Organizations to choose from include,

  • “American Woman Suffrage Association”
  • “National American Woman Suffrage Association”
  • “National Woman's Party”
  • “National Association of Colored Women”
  • “Woman's Christian Temperance Union”
  • “International Woman Suffrage Alliance”
  • “Women's Peace Party”

Activity 2: The 20th Century Woman
An oral history is a historical document created by recording or transcribing another person's recollections of the past. Oral histories are collected by interviewing a person with a unique connection to a story you are interested in and intentionally gathering information about that story with prepared questions, like Kathleen Hunter did when she spoke to Butler Franklin.

Have the students create their own oral histories by interviewing an adult female family member or family friend about life in the 20th century. Students should submit a list of 10 questions they plan to ask their subject. Several of these questions should be crafted so the answers will reveal information about the experiences of women in the 20th century.

After coming up with questions, students will use an audio recording device (or A/V device) to capture the oral history and then use a word processor to transcribe it. Students should submit the transcription to you for a class oral history book that can be published in a blog online or printed for your students to take home with them.

After students have had a chance to review the class oral history book, hold a class discussion about how reliable oral histories are. Some of the subjects may have described the same events or people, so students may want to compare and contrast these descriptions. Explain to students that there are several “tests” historians use to determine the trustworthiness of an oral history. Pass out this short list of four issues to each student and ask them to use it to critique their own interviews.

Lucid memory: What evidence is there that the subject's memory is generally clear and lucid? Is there any evidence that he/she has difficulty tracking events?

Personal connection to the people and events: What, if any, is the subject's connection to the events or people he/she talks about? For how long did your subject know people she talked about? How close was your subject to the events and to the people? Do you think she was close enough to be an expert on those events and people?

Knowledge of details: Did your subject know a lot about the details of the events or people he/she described? Which details? What do you think was left unclear or unsaid?

Telescoping time and events: It is not uncommon for people, especially elderly people, to collapse time and events. Sometimes whole generations are missing. Sometimes people and events get placed in the wrong time period. Because of this, historians use other sources to check how close the oral history matches what other people said or wrote about the same things. Where can you go to fact-check the information about the events and people your subject talked about?

Service learning
To turn this activity into a service learning project, have your students design a series of exhibit posters that use the best anecdotes or quotations from their interviews to illustrate the "20th century women" theme. Contact your local library or historical society and offer them the exhibit and the oral history audio recordings with transcriptions. They may want to add these oral histories to their website and put the posters on display for the public.

Activity 3: Beyond the Voting Booth
Charismatic leaders like Alice Paul often show up during America's great moments in civil rights history. Like Thomas Jefferson, Sojourner Truth, and Martin Luther King, Jr., they spent their lives and energy working toward a political goal, not on a common profession or their families. But their success depended on the small works of ordinary people. How do people in your community make a difference? Use this activity to find out.

Invite a city council member, county commissioner, or other local representative to speak to students about how people make their voices heard by their lawmakers. Before the speaker arrives, have students go through newspapers and identify three or four political issues they can ask the speaker about. Each student should submit to you three questions they want to ask the politician about how ordinary people can work to influence these issues apart from voting. Point out to your students that they are disenfranchised until they turn 18, assuming they're American citizens. How can people without a vote influence government? You can choose the questions you think will provoke the best answers from the guest speaker and ask for volunteers to read each question. After the event, hold a class discussion about what methods the students think are the most effective.

Consider expanding this activity to include a service learning component. Have the students individually choose a public cause to support. Students can choose to attend a public meeting outside of school, after which they should write a report on what they witnessed at the meeting, or they can write a letter to a politician and ask him or her to consider their concerns about an issue that affects their lives. Each letter should reflect an understanding of the issue based on the student's own research.

Activity 4: Histories of Liberties
Have students use the U.S. Constitution, other primary source documents, their history textbooks, and online resources to create a timeline of American laws that expanded and restricted political rights for specific groups living in the United States today. Each student should choose one group to study. For example: African Americans, Native Americans, 18-20 year-olds, women, Latinos, Americans without land, immigrants, etc. The timeline can cover any period of time, but it should result in a clear narrative about that group's experience. Students can draw their timeline on construction paper or they can use a digital timeline creation tool, like TimeGlider or TikiToki, to publish their research online. Not all timelines about the same group need to include all the same events, and students can draw from state laws as well as federal laws. Let students decide what is important and then defend their choices. After they create these timelines, have each student write a page-long narrative with a thesis statement about the group that describes the timeline of laws they chose.


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