Recently I had the pleasure of presenting Susan B. Anthony in costume at the World of Inquiry School in the Rochester City School District. Approximately 100 seventh-graders, in groups of 20, cycled through several costumed speakers who introduced students to a variety of 19th century issues, including temperance, antislavery, physical abuse, unequal access to education, child labor, and women’s rights.
We like to think ourselves well-advanced beyond Americans of the 1900s, but are we, really? We still have problems with alcoholism, racism, abuse, and women’s rights. And today, children as young as eight years being trafficked in the sex trade, a form of child labor that is even more appalling than the factory work of 19th century youngsters .
Some of the World of Inquiry classes were all girls, others all boys. Presenting Miss Anthony’s impassioned plea for women’s rights to seventh-grade boys presented a unique opportunity. Why should young males, at the beginning of their adult years, voluntarily rescind some of their natural rights to girls? “Miss Anthony” drew upon her Quaker upbringing to challenge those teenagers to respect themselves and accord the same respect to the females in their lives. She asked them to consider what happens to women who are dependent on men when the men must leave their women, in situations such as military service or death. Would a respectful man want to put a woman he loves at risk for a life of poor education and poor wages just so he can act superior to her when he is present?
We costumed presenters kicked off a curriculum unit entitled “Fighting for Change.” Following our appearances, the teachers have helped students work through some of the nuances of these social problems and take them from the common teenage refrain of “It’s not fair” to “What am I going to do about it?” Sounds to me like a worthy goal.
In the above photo from that event are pictured David Anderson as Frederick Douglass, Victoria Schmidt as an Erie Canal cook, Jeanne Gehret as Susan B. Anthony, Christine Ridarski (historian, City of Rochester), and Jeffrey Ludwig as an early temperance advocate.