Private wives, public lives

Charlotte Muller

KSU partners with a Canton library to create classes on the lives of the nation’s first ladies

The National First Ladies’ Library houses many antiques from former first ladies, including Abigail Adams’ curling iron and a letter she wrote to John Adams. The library and Education and Research Center offers guided tours year round. MICHELE ROEHRIG | S

Credit: Steve Schirra

* * * Correction: The Summer Kent Stater incorrectly reported that The First Ladies National Museum was named after President McKinley. There is also no Ramsayer Research Library within the museum. The error occured in the reporting and editing processes. * * *

Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services is cooperating with the First Ladies’ Library in Canton to develop online lesson plans based on the lives of our nation’s first ladies.

The National First Ladies’ Library, which opened in June 1998, is dedicated to exploring the lives of all first ladies in order to better understand the history of women and the impact that history has upon our nation and our culture today.

Bette Brooks, director of partnership initiatives and administrative services, and Averil McClelland, associate professor of education foundations and special services, were asked to help develop a complete curriculum centered on the history of these women.

“Former Kent State President Carol Cartwright is on the board of the library, and in 2000 she was asked if she knew anyone to take up this challenge,” McClelland said. “She called the dean of our school and two of us were up for it.”

The lesson plans honor both the intimate lives of these women as well as the civic causes they supported as first ladies.

“We started with a paper version but soon enough the project became too big,” Brooks said. “It needed to be published on the Web.”

Twenty-one lessons for each woman are currently available online. Elementary, middle and high school students have free access to seven lesson plans for their age group.

“As of this month, we have covered 23 ladies out of the 41,” McClelland said. “It’s a lifetime activity, but we keep going till it’s all done.”

All lessons meet national education standards for English, social studies and technology. The lessons touch on historical landmarks that occurred during each first lady’s life.

Along with the biographies, a comprehensive historical time line can be found online. It covers seven categories and numerous themes, including science, law, important births and deaths in history, economics and medicine.

Brooks said it is not a feminist curriculum.

“Of course there are some feminist ideas expressed, but we just want to mainstream women’s history,” she said. “It’s an area that is lacking. We know about the men but not the wives. The first lady can be the most powerful non-elected woman in the United States.”

McClelland and Brooks require verification from multiple sources in order to use the information for their project.

“Something has to be in two sources for us to use it in the lesson plans; however, many primary sources — family — didn’t think the ladies were important and respected their privacy,” McClelland said.

George Washington’s wife burnt all her letters and correspondence with her husband, which made it more difficult to find information about her.

The curriculum is provided free of charge by the National First Ladies’ Library and anyone is welcome to download the plans and any related work sheets or hand outs.

The grand opening for the renovated education and research center at the National First Ladies’ Library was held Sept. 4, 2003 and was attended by 400 invited guests, including first lady Laura Bush.

The center, which received $1 million through two state appropriations, houses a comprehensive collection of artifacts and writings from 41 former first ladies. It is located in downtown Canton in a 108-year-old structure that previously housed a bank.

Contact student wellness reporter Charlotte Muller at [email protected].