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How women pioneers can empower today's students

Teachers ·
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Quizlet is proud to partner with teachers to showcase authentic voices on our blog. This guest post is by Jenn Jeffers.

Teaching Women’s History Month in the classroom should be a joyful experience. This March, empower your students by giving them the gift of history, setting aside time to honor the many significant contributions women have made to the American landscape. March provides an opportunity to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture, society and more.

Regardless of classroom demographics, Women’s History Month provides a treasure trove of learning—especially for students who enjoy hearing about the struggles and successes of real-life women, who likely had similar life dreams and goals as the students of today.

Showcasing Women Pioneers

Although the topic of women’s history is vast and deep, there is much to learn right on the surface. For one, there are endless women to spotlight, all of whom made incredibly meaningful contributions to our country. From politics and art, to business and social issues, women have been busy throughout history, working continuously for the right to speak their minds.

Sharing their stories with students is a terrific way to open their minds to many different perspectives—and to demonstrate the tremendous accomplishments of the people who came before us.

While there is no “right” way to showcase women pioneers from history, it is important to consider your students when choosing individuals to study. Their ages, interests and even geographic location will likely factor into the pedagogical decisions you make, so think carefully about your learning objectives and how you can interweave stories of women with other powerful issues such as racism and equality.

Activism — Upper Elementary

Rosa Parks.pngRosa Parks (1913-2005)

This Rosa Parks exhibit offers younger students a great virtual lesson on what it means to stand up for their rights. Best known for breaking the law in 1955 by not giving up her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama, Parks remains a shining example to young people everywhere: small actions can make a big difference!

Her single courageous act of civil disobedience catapulted her to iconic status, ultimately leading to the disintegration of Jim Crow segregation. But behind these tremendous actions was a real woman.

Ask students to explore her real historical life. Have them pinpoint the ways her identity as an African American woman and a worker may have propelled her into rebellion. Through studying her own words, students will discover a more intimate understanding of Parks as a pioneer, creating a rich opportunity to discover what it means to be an activist in the real world.

Arts — Middle School

Julie Hart Beers.jpegJulie Hart Beers (1835-1913)

The amount of women pioneers who go unrecognized is astounding. Take Julie Hart Beers, arguably one of the first American-born women to find recognition as a painter. During the 19th century, women artists often signed their work with a first initial and last name to hide their gender. It wasn’t until the second half of the century that women gradually became a force on the American art scene, finally winning commissions and awards commensurate with their talents.

Essentially self-taught, Beers became the only woman artist of the century to specialize in landscape painting. There were few to no women doing this at the time, primarily because the rigors of painting outdoors were considered unseemly for Victorian women. Ask students how they feel about that. Is there an area of life today where they can see the same stigmas and associations?

Although Beers went largely unappreciated during her lifetime, her talent and dedication to landscape painting paved the way for other female artists in this medium.

Business — High School

Hetty.pngHetty Green (1834-1916)

Ask your students if they have ever heard of Hetty Green, the “Witch of Wall Street,” and you are sure to get their attention! How did a religious Quaker woman in the Gilded Age come by such a fierce name? The answer is simple: she found success in the male-dominated world of business and finance, to become one of the richest people in the United States. Using the money she inherited from her father, Green carefully invested in real estate and railroads throughout her long life, eventually dying in 1916 with an estimated $100,000,000. Yes, that’s 100 million dollars, a sum worth 2 billion dollars in today’s market!

During her financial career as America’s first female tycoon, Green became the iconoclast who forged one of the greatest fortunes of her time. Up until this point, no woman had managed to earn so much money, nor had they enjoyed the level of independence it provided. Green prided herself on being financially autonomous and offered other women valuable lessons on money, ones that still stand to this day.

Ask students to learn more about Green’s life. How did her family situation and parental relationships contribute to her desire for financial independence? How did her view of American society affect her desire to earn? Never losing faith in the “American dream” of prosperity, Green’s experience offers lessons in perseverance, bravery and the value of going where no woman has gone before.

Teaching with Integrity

Enriching students about history comes with a lot of personal study. Biographies, electronic field trips, downloadable worksheets, lesson plans, primary sources, and plenty more digital classroom resources are readily available online for Women’s History Month.

It’s important for students to understand that women’s history is still happening in many ways. Task students with finding current events that speak to the ongoing struggle for gender equality. From reproductive rights to sexism, plenty of challenges still remain for American women.

Looking for more free resources? Check out Quizlet’s Be The Change content for Women’s History Month.