History classes are usually rife with information about rulers, presidents and generals. But for Women’s History Month, Durango High School world history teacher Dale Garland decided to have his students look at history from the female side.
“It was one of those Friday night inspiration moments,” he said. “I thought, as a social studies teacher, if I’m not teaching it, I bet my peers aren’t either.”
The students had two caveats for their projects, some of which were on display in the school’s library Thursday. The women had to have lived from the Renaissance era to modern day, and they had to have done something of historical significance.
Students could work individually or in small groups. Many created PowerPoint presentations, while others made poster displays.
Some subjects were well-known, such as Marie Curie, Harriet Tubman, Coco Chanel, Winnie Mandela and Florence Nightingale.
“One group of guys studied Catherine the Great,” Garland said. “By the end they were thinking: Wow, this woman tried to modernize an entire country.”
Another group of boys took on research into Rosalind Franklin, who did groundbreaking work on the discovery of DNA, but she was not acknowledged for her work.
“After they looked at her,” Garland said, “ they became interested in the Matilda effect, and looked at other women who did research and didn’t get the credit.”
Other subjects were more obscure, such as Anna Maria Van Schurman, the first woman known to have attended university in the 1630s in the Netherlands, and a staunch advocate for women’s education. Or Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, a fierce advocate for women’s right to vote in Nigeria.
“She survived World War II in the Netherlands and almost starved to death,” said Abby Burrows about her subject, Audrey Hepburn. “She changed how women were portrayed in the movies, from sexy like Marilyn Monroe to classy, and she was an activist for children who were starving her whole life.”
Mercedez Farley and her partner were one of two groups to study Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner who fights for girls’ right to have an education.
“We had already heard about her in school,” Mercedez said. “What she’s fighting for applies to us. We admired what she did and how she stayed strong, even after the Taliban shot her in the head.”
While Garland expected the girls in his class to enjoy the project, it was the boys’ reaction that most struck him.
“The girls were appreciative,” he said, “but the guys’ realization of how many women made a difference was marked. I am definitely going to do this project again.”