Thursday, February 18, 2016

4th grade lunch bunch topics (Women in Virginia History)

When you take a field trip with students you can see them tune in and tune out to various topics. The academics, while always tuned in, are more or less excited about various topics and the other students require even less of your attention for you to know how interested they are.

A few years ago I took a tour of Jamestown with some fourth graders. It was interesting for me to see them respond to various aspects of the exhibit. There is a newer gallery at Jamestown featuring an exhibit called "From Africa to Virginia" On this particular field trip I was holding hands with a fourth grader named "M" because he has a tendency to get bored and start trouble. He reminded me a great deal of one of my own sons whose attention span is a bit flighty and who just is filled with too much restless energy. He had tried to keep it together while looking at the ships, that interested him, but we lost him a little inside the settlement. Too hard to see, not enough time to touch and explore... and then we found ourselves in this exhibit "From Africa to Virginia" M is a black boy and he immediately let go of my hand and went to read every description, look at every visual and was flustered that he didn't have more time to absorb. So I stayed back with him to give him an extra minute.

Like I said, students tune in and out to various topics. And frequently it seems the ones that they feel are for them or about them are the ones they tune into.

So why are our history books filled only with white/anglo men?

Because the white/anglo men created a land where only white/anglo men could receive an education, only white/anglo men could own land, vote, have a voice...

So in my 4th grade lunch bunch - which is 8 to 9 4th grade girls - we ask "what were the women doing?" That is at least 1/2 the population - what were they doing?

We start with Pocahontas and the book "The True Story of Pocahontas"
described as: The True Story of Pocahontas is the first public publication of the Powhatan perspective that has been maintained and passed down from generation to generation within the Mattaponi Tribe, and the first written history of Pocahontas by her own people.
 True Story of Pocahontas

see also: for additional information
The book is not appropriate for most 4th graders. However I would suggest it for any teacher of 4th grade Virginia History.
So in lunch bunch what do we talk about? In the book Pocahontas is repeatedly called "A Peace Symbol" and we focus on that. It is also our introduction to the idea that there is no "right" story. That many times there is more than one side to a story in history and we must always ask ourselves "from whose perspective are we learning this?" In the case of Pocahontas are we learning from the perspective of the Mattaponi or from the perspective of the English? Why might that matter?

Christiana Campbell is who we talk about next. She owned a tavern in Williamsburg, Va. Easily found as the name lives on in Williamsburg's living History Museum: Christiana Cambell's Tavern
And her name is included in Virginia Women in History: Christiana Cambell
So why do we talk about her? Well because in 1700's in Virginia women did not typically own property or operate businesses (as far as I know. I'm not a history expert. If you are and can reference something to show me otherwise please do!) Some women would inherit and continue to operate a business after the death of their husband - but Christiana Cambell was different in that her husband died, then she moved to Williamsburg and opened the tavern with money from her father's estate. She operated the business for 30 years according to Williamsburg history.

Martha Danderidge Curtis Washington is who we talk about next. As there is plenty of information about her and she lived as such an interesting time we might spend two lunch sessions trying to get it all in. Here we also look at the difference between why Virginians may have come to the New World and the society they created and how the Pilgrims created their society. Two very different mind sets. Virginia, with plantations and finery, seems to have been a "new" England. There is a social caste in place here. The Pilgrims came to be free or to purify themselves of that aspect of English culture. Sometimes that gets lost when children are learning about the colonies. We talk about the Danderidges being of more modest means than many other Virginia land owning families. We talk about how wealth was counted (the number of acres owned and the number of slaves owned.) We talk about Martha's gustiness in convincing Mr. Curtis that she would be a suitable daughter-in-law and how that marriage made her one of the wealthiest women in the Colony. And we talk about her marriage to George Washington and her role as First Lady.

Then we talk about Oney Judge. Oney Judge's mother was a dowery slave of Martha Washington's. That means that she belonged to Martha, not to George. And her children belonged to Martha. Oney Judge famously ran away and because of George Washington's place in history we have documentation regarding her flight and the measures taken to return her to the Washington estate.
A book I recommend to the girls is this one:
(I bought my copy at the Colonial Williamsburg Bookstore in the Visitors Center)

At this point we have discussed Pocahontas from the time of the Jamestown Settlement, Christiana Cambell from the time of Virginia as a Colony, Martha Washington and Oney Judge from the time of the American Revolution.

Now we skip to the time of the Civil War and discuss Lucy Goode Brooks.
Lucy Goode Brooks was a slave in Virginia. She has an interesting story. She married a slave, Albert Royal Brooks, and he worked to purchase her freedom as well as the freedom of some of their children. Other children were sold before their parents could purchase them. After the Civil War Lucy Brooks was concerned over the fate of suddenly freed slave children who had been sold away from the parents and were now on their own. She worked with the Quakers to create an orphanage which became the Friends' Asylum for Colored Orphans. For information regarding Lucy Goode Brooks check this site

To date we haven't gotten further than Lucy Brooks. Normally at this point it is spring, the students are taking SOLs and we spend our lunch time eating cupcakes and playing games.

If you are interested in Virginia History, Colonial Williamsburg is a great resource. Complemented by Jamestown and Yorktown and you have a lot at your fingertips. I love the Colonial Williamsburg Bookstore and can get lost in there for hours. 

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