Places Where Women Made History

Using geographic locations can help students identify with the history-making women associated with them.

By Erin Bailey

Posted

map of the United States

One way to connect children and history is by using a a geographical location as a springboard. The National Park Service says, “Places add substance to the themes and events covered in textbooks.” Although it may not be possible to make a physical visit, the Internet has made it possible to bring those places into the classroom. To celebrate Women’s History Month, try exploring places where women made history.

Women’s Rights

The home of the early women's movement was a very common-looking house. There in Thomas and Mary Ann M'Clintock's house in Waterloo, New York, five women, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, drafted their Declaration of Sentiments in 1848. This document addressed such controversial topics as equal wages, educational rights, women’s property rights, marriage reform, and women’s suffrage.

Let learners view images of the house and the map of the Waterloo area online and then ask them to answer these questions:

  • How old does this home look to you?   
  • What historical event do you think took place here?
  • How would visitors have reached this location a century ago? Today?

After the Civil War, women linked their cause to African-Americans. With the founding of the National Women’s Party in 1913, the movement’s leaders focused on a federal amendment for women’s suffrage. In 1929, the National Women’s Party purchased the Sewall-Belmont House which stands opposite of the Capitol building in Washington, DC. From that location, the party’s leaders could keep an eye on Congress and promote their agenda for women’s rights.

The Sewall-Belmont House was completed in 1800 and became the headquarters for the National Women’s Party in 1929. Today it serves as a museum and center for education on the history of women’s rights in America. Using photographs, historical newspapers, and political cartoons, the museum has created two slide shows that students can view to better understand this important period in American history. From the Collections tab, click on any of the subheadings to search for images and documents to support your pupils’ learning. Under the Learn tab is a section named, “Women We Celebrate,” where introductory biographies of some famous women's rights workers can be read. Your class can compile their research into a book that can be put on display in the library during Women’s History Month.

Women of the West

Beyond the Mississippi River, women were engaged in a struggle of their own—settling the West. In many ways, the western states allowed for more equality between the sexes due to the hard work required of everyone who lived there. As proof of this, four of those states—Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Idaho—granted women the right to vote long before it became federal law.

In 1861, Adeline Hornbeck moved to Colorado with her husband and children. They applied for land under the Homesteaders Act; however her husband died shortly afterward leaving Adeline to fend for herself. She managed quite well, ranching and farming on eighty acres just outside of Denver. A few years later she had saved enough money to buy a second, larger ranch in the Florissant Valley. In addition, she worked in the Florissant Mercantile.

Like Adeline Hornbeck, Helen J. Stewart became the head of her household when her husband was murdered near present-day Las Vegas. Although brought up as a proper Victorian lady, she proved to be a keen businesswoman and landowner. As talk began about a railroad being built through Las Vegas, Helen started buying parcels. The railroad deal fell through, but Helen J. Stewart's ranch eventually became downtown Las Vegas, Nevada. For all of her civic work, she was given the unofficial title of First Lady of Las Vegas. 

Individuals or small groups can research an important woman from your town, region, or state, and create a shadow box of items to represent the woman’s life and accomplishments.

Entrepreneurs

Born with the name Sarah Breedlove in 1868, Madam C.J. Walker grew up to become an inventor, entrepreneur, and philanthropist, as well as the first female millionaire in the United States. At a time when African American women had few career opportunities, Madam Walker took it upon herself to create opportunity. She developed a line of hair care products that she marketed to African American women and sold door-to-door. She started a correspondence school for black women which taught them how to use her products on customers, as well as sell the products. Her business philosophy enabled African American women to become self-sufficient. In 1910, she built a factory in Indianapolis, Indiana which was the center of American manufacturing. Her products are still being manufactured today.

Another woman who had a huge impact on the business world was Elizabeth C. Quinlan. In all likelihood, the clothing you are wearing today was not made by hand. However, going to a store and buying clothing is a relatively modern convenience. For thousands of years, people either made their own clothes or paid someone to make them. In 1894, Women in Minneapolis, Minnesota made nearly all of their own clothing. Ready-to-wear was a new idea in fashion and not one available to the masses. Elizabeth C. Quinlan and her partner, Fred Young, opened the first women’s ready-to-wear shop west of the Mississippi River in the back of Vrooman’s Glove Company in 1894. In 1926, Ms. Quinlan opened a five-story building in downtown Minneapolis complete with an elevator and underground parking garage.

Take students to the following website to view pictures of the Madame C.J. Walker Building. Help them think of factors that a business must consider when deciding where to build a factory. It helps to have a US map handy so that children can see the city’s location in the country. Then, ask them why Indianapolis may have been chosen for the location of the Madam C.J. Walker Company. Have students research where products are made in the United States today. Here are some places to try:

  • Stetson Hats – Garland, TX
  • Crayola Crayons – Easton, PA
  • Wilson’s NFL Footballs – Ada, OH
  • Gibson Guitars – Bozeman, MT

Repeat the exercise you used for Indianapolis using these cities. What other products can young researchers find that are made in the United States?

Next, have children name some of the stores where they shop for clothes. As a class, look at pictures of the Young-Quinlan Company department store. Make a list of the differences that students notice between the stores. Why might the stores have been so large and so elegant? To wrap up the study, have your class research local businesses that has been around 30 years or more. Can they discover:

  • Who started it?
  • Who runs it today?
  • What they sell?
  • Who they sell it to?

More Lessons:

More Than a Hostess: The Role of First Ladies

In this article, several ideas for studying the nation’s First Ladies are presented. Besides social studies connections, learners can study these important women in math and geography. Activities are suggested for grades 2-6.

Feel Empowered! Teaching About Female Inventors

Women have invented some well-known items that are used daily, such as square paper bag bottoms, correction fluid, and windshield wipers. This article introduces students to Margaret Knight, Bette Nesmith Graham and Mary Anderson through research, guided questions, and brainstorming.

World War II Fly Girls

During WWII, women pilots were allowed to fly fighter planes. Young scholars use primary sources, a documentary, and the Internet to research one of these pilots. They use analysis and critical thinking to draw conclusions about the impact the war had on women’s equality.