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EIU 360

Message of Growth and Progress

The Living History program travels to local schools to make history a first-person experience

Her friends know her as Andrea Morgan, a history major with teacher certification. Morgan is mild mannered, a good student, even helps coach softball. Yet like Clark Kent into Superman, all it takes is a denim shirt, a bandana, and hair bun for Morgan to become Rosie the Riveter.

Morgan as Rosie and nearly a dozen women in-character make up the Living History program, sponsored by the Women’s Studies Program.

Cayla Wagner, in the guise of Harriet Beecher Stowe, explained the program as such: “A bunch of girls get to dress up in costumes of historical women figures, either from the past or the present, and we get to go around to local schools and tell the children what was so special about the women we’re portraying.”

Morgan, a self-proclaimed “history nerd,” described the program as a great outlet to help students learn about history.

“This is big-time interactive learning. Students really get to know the character. It's engaging; it gets them more excited than just a textbook.”

Emily McInerney, who plays Civil War soldier Jennie Hodgers, said the program provides an example of how women throughout history have been able to spark change. “It just kind of shows that women are more than the homemakers and that women like Jennie were able to step out of their comfort zone.”

Wagner acknowledged the difficulties that come with participating in the program. Many of them, she said, dedicated as much of their free time as possible to signing up to visit grade schools. Once they arrive in the classroom, the topics they tackle, such as inequality and slavery, can be difficult to discuss with the children.

Wagner said: ”My character, Harriet Beecher Stowe, wrote a novel about slavery. With first and third graders it can be kind of hard to tell them about slavery and all the horrors without it going over their head or being inappropriate.”

Wagner notes that in general the students have been very receptive to her message at the school.

“They asked a lot of really great and interesting questions,” she explained. “I remember one classroom asked me specifically ‘Do people from the 1800s eat, and if they ate, what do they eat off of? Do they eat with a plate? Or did they just eat off of the table with their bare hands?’”

Wagner feels the program is enjoyable for any young woman, regardless of major.

“If you just want to teach a child about something, just do it. It's really great. If you have an interest in history and you really like to teach children about it, or if you just want to celebrate being a woman, then go ahead. I recommend the program -- absolutely.”

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