Students bring history to life in play

Tessa Carroll

Salem, Ohio – a place a number of Kent State students call home. More than that Salem is a city rich in history.

According to the Salem Historical Society’s Web site, the first women’s rights convention organized by and for women in Ohio was held there in 1850. Thirteen houses in Salem also were used as stations on the Underground Railroad.

These stories and others were researched by students in Sandra Eaglen’s playwriting class as part of a project with the Salem Historical Society to help celebrate the town’s bicentennial year, 2006.

“The major mission of the regional campuses is community involvement,” Eaglen said. “Salem was historically important in terms of women’s rights and the Underground Railroad, and I felt that the community needed something to help celebrate its bicentennial and rich history.”

That “something” was a script for an oral history play to be performed at the Salem Community Theatre this summer. To write the script, Eaglen enlisted the help of four students to research and write about historically important events and people in Salem.

“I wanted to get students involved,” Eaglen said. “Each student worked independently on the areas they selected to research. All of their work culminated in a 10 to 12 page script for a one-act play.”

Salem students Kathryn Garver, Patrick Rigney, Maegan Richards and Casey Cross researched historical aspects of the town ranging from Salem’s involvement in the Underground Railroad to the town’s role in the Civil War and the historically important people who lived there in between.

Garver, sophomore psychology major, chose to research and write about Salem’s role in the Underground Railroad.

“The Underground Railroad was a very vital part of Salem history,” she said. “I believe it also can speak to us today about the fact that, if we just look around us, there are causes and needs to be addressed, to take a stand for and to contribute to your community in a productive manner.

“Things were just as rough as a person might expect for the early experience in this uncharted territory. Isolation and separation were seemingly difficult for the settlers to adjust to.”

Eaglen said she feels what she and her students are doing with this project is extremely important for both the community and the Salem campus.

“It’s important to expand your horizons beyond the classroom,” she said. “Look for opportunities to expand your interests beyond sitting in a traditional classroom.”

Eaglen’s playwriting class was created deliberately for this purpose and this project.

“I wanted to take students out of the classroom,” she said. “Creating this class was the perfect way to do so. This class also gave the students an opportunity to engage with community members while they did research for school credit.”

Garver enjoyed the time she spent doing research and working on her script.

“Taking a class like this is great for a person in so many ways,” she said. “It helps you to learn during your research and to stretch your imagination, as well as grow on a personal level. Finding out so much great information about the area you grew up in is also eye-opening.”

For more information on the history of Salem, visit the Salem Historical Society Web site at

Contact regional campuses reporter Tessa Carroll at [email protected].