Two years ago I had the incredible opportunity to join the Jane Addams Papers Project. Thanks to a lot of amazing circumstances, I am happy to be with the project, even after graduating from Ramapo College this spring. On a typical day, I enter and transcribe Addams’ correspondence. I enter various people and do minor research on those I can find. One of the exciting projects that we are working on is the creation of National History Day guides. Only having just started working on them, I am glad to have the opportunity to combine my history skills with the lessons I have learned as I pursue my teaching certificate.
There is rarely a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new from Addams’s documents. I am currently working on documents from late 1915, which mostly focuses on the international peace movement during World War I, before the United States had entered the war. This is a topic that is rarely covered or taught in high school, so learning about it through the in-depth, step-by-step happenings. It is like learning about history in real time, as every telegram and letter is sent.
For the common American student in 2017, it is unlikely that they will learn much, if anything, about the Woman’s Peace Party. Maybe there are not enough resources and ways for teachers to access the information (although this project will change that). This was certainly the case during 1915. Every couple of days I enter a new document from students across the country asking Addams for materials on the peace movement or the Woman’s Peace Party because they cannot find the materials on their own.
Typically, I cannot find these students in Ancestry or other resources because they were teenagers when they wrote the letters. I was recently shocked when I did find one of these students. I typed her name into Google and an oral history of her life immediately popped up. This woman, Rosita Holdsworth, had lived to be 101 years old (1899-2000) and had received a good amount of news coverage in Texas when she was approaching her 100th birthday. To learn about her life, from an interview directly with, an interview that I might add is younger than I am, was not something I was expecting.
Not every person has such an unexpected story, but when I do find them, or a particularly interesting letter, it is a reminder that every person can have an impact and that everyone has a voice.