How one N.H. nonprofit is working to get more women’s perspectives into history class
Many history and social studies lessons focus on the lives and accomplishments of men. The Remedial Herstory Project is trying to change that.
Kelsie Eckert’s love for women’s history came late, after she had been teaching high school social studies in New Hampshire for years. Then, on a trip to the National Museum of American History, Eckert picked up the book “America’s Women” by Gail Collins.
“I realized I knew nothing about women in American history, other than the suffragists,” she remembers. “I was like, ‘Holy moly, there is so much here. How do I not know this, and I’m a certified teacher?’”
Since then, Eckert has been spreading the gospel of women’s history to social studies teachers across the country. Her nonprofit, the Remedial Herstory Project, develops lesson plans and offers training on how to incorporate women's perspectives into social studies curriculum that’s often authored by men.
“What’s being written is more about the people who are writing it than it is about what’s going on. Women are there,” she said. “They’re present, they’re complicated, they’re diverse, they have different opinions, and they don’t get those voices in our history classes.”
Among the hundreds of voices Eckert hopes to elevate: Marie Louise-Osmont, a Frenchwoman whose diary is one of the major primary sources on Normandy in World War II, and Ku-Baba, a Mesopotamian monarch from 3rd century B.C.
And at a training in Plymouth this week, a small group of New Hampshire teachers began developing their own lesson plans with Eckert’s help.
“I realized I knew nothing about women in American history, other than the suffragists. I was like, ‘Holy moly, there is so much here. How do I not know this, and I’m a certified teacher?’”Kelsie Eckert
Jill Chastenay, who teaches high school social studies in Claremont, was hunting for primary sources on women who helped conserve Franconia Notch and the Old Man of the Mountain in the 1920s.
At another table, Campton teacher Patrick Toy perused the internet for new material to include in a middle school class on how American colonists fought British rule.
“All of my sourcing has been men, because the Sons of Liberty played a huge role,” he said. “Now I’m trying to find women’s perspective on that, and on the violence itself.”
In the last few years, Toy says he’s started to reflect more on what’s left out of his curriculum. When teaching about U.S. presidents, he introduces Abigail Adams and jokes with students about the dynamic between James Madison and his wife Dolley.
“They’re middle schoolers so it's like: ‘He’s a total dork and she's a party girl. Let's think about that for a second!’” he laughs.
Though the majority of K-12 teachers in the U.S. are female, about 60% of social studies teachers are male, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.
Jill Chasteney, the teacher from Claremont, is the only female member of her school's social studies department. She's not surprised.
“It makes sense if you look at the context: Social studies encompasses a lot of wars, battles, politics and economics,” said Chastenay. “Because women were left out of these spaces for so long, they haven’t developed as much of an interest in it yet.”