Guest Blog: Krystle Merchant on Teaching Women’s History

Krystle Merchant teaches a high school women’s history class at an all-girls school outside of Washington, D.C. (photo courtesy, Krystle Merchant)

The following guest blog by Krystle Merchant is the final post in a three-part series on teaching for social justice featuring the work of educators in primary, middle, and high school classrooms.

Krystle Merchant is a teacher and proud feminist at an all-girls high school in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. 

As a young, black female history teacher at a private school in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., I often feel pressured to speak to colleagues and parents on behalf of many different communities. As a result, I try to educate girls to be willing and able to do the same as adult women, regardless of which communities they represent. This is especially true in my Women in the United States senior history elective, where I draw my students’ attention to their current and future experiences as women, the importance of gender to the meaning of history, and the construction of the historical narrative.

On the first day of class, we start with a simple survey. The first question, “Are you a feminist?,” always gets a qualified answer. Even seniors at an all-girls high school, who are choosing to take a course in women’s history, do not feel comfortable identifying as feminists. The term is so deeply connected to negative stereotypes of women, that even when they give a good working definition of feminism, they do not want to associate themselves with the term.

To chip away at their internalized barrier to feminism, I ask my girls to identify, follow, and respond regularly to a feminist blog such as the fbomb, Feministing, and Feminists for Choice. From there, the course proceeds by reviewing much of the same content covered in their junior year survey course on U.S. History.

However, rather than discussing notable American women or women’s contributions to the usual textbook topics, we talk about periodization, access to power, and production. The latter term “production” refers to the sources available for our study and whether they were produced by women. Women’s societal status at any given time determined the kinds of information they could produce and whether that information became accessible for later study. Continue reading

Call for Applications: NEH Summer Seminar: Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930

Sojourner Truth

The following is a guest post from Elisabeth Israels Perry, who is the John Francis Bannon, SJ, Professor, Emeritus at Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, MO. A specialist in American women’s history, Perry will be offering an NEH seminar for teachers called Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930 this summer.  I invited Perry to share more about the scope of the seminar and how to apply. The deadline is March 1.

Hello feminist teachers!  My name is Elisabeth Israels Perry, and I’m an Emeritus Professor of History and Women’s Studies at Saint Louis University.  This coming summer, I’m directing a seminar for teachers called “Varieties of American Feminism, 1830-1930,” which is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Program in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University-St. Louis.  It will be held in St. Louis, Missouri, on the Wash U campus, for four weeks from June 27 to July 22, 2011.

The purpose of the seminar is to provide teachers an opportunity to discuss with colleagues some of the great writings and speeches from America’s first feminist movement.  We address the following questions:  what is feminism?  What are its historical roots and essential components? How have feminists differed from one another, and how do early feminists differ from feminists today?  What aspects of feminist traditions are important for today’s youth to know about, and how can we best convey that knowledge to them?  Continue reading