The last week of June is normally one of the busier weeks of year for me at Lexington Historical Society. Typically, our historic houses are open and just starting to buzz with the influx of visitors to Lexington and we have just finished up with our school group season so I’m crunching numbers on how many smiling faces learned what Rev. Clarke ate. However, one of my favorite tasks of this week is finalizing craft materials and plans for our First Shot Summer Camp.
Our summer camp typically runs for a week the week after Independence Day and allows campers to not only view our historic sites in person, but also become active participants as they complete crafts and activities similar to what Lexington residents would have been completing during the Colonial and Revolutionary War eras in Lexington. It has always been such a joy to see how artistic and thorough the campers are as they craft a tin lantern from an aluminum soup can or design & sew their own haversacks.
However, like many things so far this season, we have been challenged to reimagine what a camp would look like for this summer. With the small touring spaces in our historic homes and the uncertainty of site-specific COVID-19 protocols, we’ve decided to offer the summer camp virtually. This year’s version of camp will be held the week of July 20-24 and will consist of two sessions each day (1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon).
Campers will go on a virtual tour in the morning with a member of our staff and then in the afternoon will receive instruction on a hands-on craft relating to Colonial life. Our “Camp in a Box” kits will be available for pickup (or mailing) as we approach the dates for camp.
While we understand that one of the unique aspects of camp in interacting with staff and other participants in a person-to-person setting, we are hopeful that participants of our virtual camp will at least be able to interact with the history we normally experience during First Shot Summer Camp.
If you’re interested in signing up for the camp, please visit our website. If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me personally at email@example.com.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Being a tour guide at the Historical Society gives you a unique set of conversational skills.
In essence, like all educators, I have been something resembling a professional public speaker for over a decade. It involves having to speak to groups of all sizes, ages, levels of education, and proficiency in English. On a busy day, a guide might have to teach the same subject matter to a class of third graders, a family of tourists from Germany, and a group of college professors. Inside, outside, microphone or no, walking or standing still, a single person or a hundred - it’s hard to be fazed after having dealt with so many variables for so long.
Zoom threw me for a loop.
When the world came to a screeching halt in mid-March, we had a wide roster of events on the horizon. Spring is the busiest time of year for the Historical Society: in addition to the usual lectures and book club meetings, several large fundraisers were in the middle of planning, and Patriots’ Day was on the horizon. We scrambled to find ways to reschedule or reimagine these events on new platforms.
Before long, we, along with the rest, began the awkward process of learning the art of video conferencing for people other than far-away relatives. Corners of strategically placed books were cultivated. Laptops were elevated at precise angles. We purchased a setup for webinars – a function that ensures that all eyes are on the speaker, as the audience’s cameras are deactivated.
Looking into the void can be terrifying. When you hit the broadcast button and the number of viewers begins rising at the bottom of the screen, there is always a terrifying moment where you nearly forget how to function as a human being. There is no simple way of knowing if things are operating properly, if people can see and hear you. All you have is a tiny camera lens to focus on, while trying not to look at your own moving image underneath it. Stage fright makes you hyper-aware of your every move; can you imagine compounding that with being able to actually see your every move in real time as well?
As it turns out, speaking into the void has a learning curve like any other. Lessons get learned and life moves on. I have been so pleased with everyone’s ability to pivot and reimagine how a public program can be run. The world has weathered audio and visual issues, zoom-bombing, and more, but the continued interest in coming together to learn about history has been heartening. Even when we are apart, there is an intrinsic need to feel a part of a community, to interact, and to learn together. Our programs so far have allowed us to have wonderful discussions with people from all over the country and the world, and to hear from speakers up to 97 years old.
This new world brings many challenges, but we will persevere. With each new challenge comes a host of new opportunities as well, for people to connect with and learn from each other.
And, so far, no one has yet become a potato by mistake. It’s the small things in life that matter most.
-Sarah McDonough, Programs Manager
On August 18th, 2020 -- the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage -- I will turn 18 years old. For the first time in my life, I’ll have the chance to vote in a presidential election. I certainly don’t take the opportunity to vote lightly, but how do I even begin to wrap my head around this decision? The whole world has been brought to a screeching halt with a global pandemic; schools and businesses have shut down and public transportation has largely been abandoned as we abide by stay at home orders. We’ve been quarantined for the past eight and half weeks already. As for the political situation, it’s vicious. I’ve been told that this upcoming election is one of the most complex presidential races in the history of the United States. So, what am I to think? What am I to do?
To answer this question, I often wonder what my Nana would have said. She grew up during the great depression, survived World War II and 9/11, battled cancer twice, and never complained. Shea was extremely proud of all of her grandkids’ accomplishments, and was excited for the opportunities that awaited her granddaughters in particular. She would’ve had the right to vote in 1947, but as a young woman with very little money she had limited opportunities. My Nana once told me she only had a few career options: secretary, clerical worker, or bank teller. However, she watched the great strides women have made over the decades and was encouraged about opportunities available to her granddaughters that she never had herself.
Reflecting on my Nana’s experiences prompted me to dig a little deeper. Before the pandemic shut down its doors, the historical society in my town launched an exhibit titled Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington. This is how I discovered the motto of the Women’s Suffrage Movement “Something Must Be Done.” I began to wonder this: if something needed to be done then, how does that apply to what must be done now? What did those bold women like my Nana have to overcome?
I found that in order to secure the right to vote, women had to be incredibly persistent; the women’s movement began in 1848, 72 years before suffrage was finally accomplished. The town of Lexington witnessed this brave perseverance with the passing of the Lexington suffrage banner. In November of 1912, the Lexington Equal Suffrage Association reconvened for their first meeting in which Caroline Wellington and fellow suffragettes presented the original banner to the association. Initially created for the Lexington Women's Suffrage League in 1887, the banner was now being handed down to a new generation of suffragists nearly twenty-five years later. This new generation would continue the decades-long fight for equal voting rights until its accomplishment just eight years later, using the banner emblazoned with the phrase “Something Must Be Done” as their symbol and guide.
The town of Lexington also watched the various setbacks over the course of this movement, including the failure of the 1915 referendum. The Lexington Equal Suffrage Association helped pin up 300 bluebirds throughout the town during the statewide campaign to grant Massachusetts women the vote. Despite their enormous contribution, the referendum failed with nearly 65% of men voting against women’s suffrage. Although this was a devastating defeat, victory was close. The bluebird remained a symbol of hope for Massachusetts women, and was even used to commemorate suffragist Lucy Stone’s birthday a month later.
As an 18-year-old today, it is easy to take the suffragists’ hard work for granted. In a few short months, I will fill out a ballot, feed it into a machine or put it in the mailbox, and my voice will be heard. A year ago I wouldn’t think much of it, if anything at all. However, this pandemic has become a wake-up call to me. Something must be done to stop the spread of the virus, to provide relief for those who are suffering, and to reopen not just the economy but the world as we know it. There is something that we can do. We can vote.
In the midst of a global crisis and a highly contested election year, we have the power to elect someone who will fight for what we believe in. This pandemic has unearthed the multitude and immensity of the issues we face as a country, ranging from environmental to economic to health care to social justice and more. This is our wake up call. Although we may feel powerless, each of us can still get involved by using our power to vote. The women of the suffrage movement knew just how important our votes are and how critical it is that each of us is heard. So this is our call to action - whether it is in a ballot in a ballot box or an envelope in a mail box, we must make our voices heard.
If my Nana was still here today, I know she would tell me to not lose hope. She would gently remind me that this situation is temporary, and that there are still many opportunities for me. Then she would tell me to use those opportunities because good things will happen. And she would be right.
History is in the making. The women of the suffrage movement persevered through many trials and setbacks, and so can we. Something must be done, something was done, and something will be done again.
-Amy Palmer, local student and guest author
"Something Must Be Done: Bold Women of Lexington" tells the stories of Lexington citizens who fought for what they believed in - whether it was British taxation, voting rights, or the institution of slavery. This exhibit is generously funded by Freedom's Way National Heritage Area and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. For more about the exhibit, visit our current exhibits page.
Find out more about suffrage bluebirds and get your own Bluebird of Hope here.
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.