Recording the Past: Conducting an Oral History of a NPS Legend
By: Maria Smith
As promised in my last blog post, today I will discuss conducting an oral history with NPS legend, WORI’s first superintendent Judy Hart, share a progress report on my storymap, and provide a vignette about the radical amongst radicals Lucretia Mott. However, before I get to that I’d like to talk about Convention Days! Every year, WORI commemorates the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, the FIRST women’s rights convention in the United States, but this year the celebration is a little different. Due to COVID-19, the Convention has been moved online, which is disappointing that we don’t get to celebrate in person, but exciting because we all get to participate regardless of where we live! The festivities will be uploaded to their social media (https://www.facebook.com/womensrightsnps/) and will be available after this weekend as well as for those who can’t virtually attend this weekend. I’m excited for all of the events, but I think I’m most excited for the Harriet Tubman Living History Program and the Bounds of Friendship program, which will explore the tumultuous relationship between Frederick Douglass and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. In my next blog post I will update you on the good, bad, and spectacular of the Convention Days programming!
Although our first session started off with some technical errors, the oral history of Judy Hart is coming along splendidly! During our 1.5-hour session, Judy discussed her childhood and early working career prior to entering the National Park Service. I am continuously amazed and horrified at the stories of working women in the 1960s, they always sound like an episode of Mad Men! After we were done recording, we chatted for a few minutes and Judy thanked me for asking questions that dealt with emotion rather than purely about events. For me, this is the best part about an oral history. By piecing together historical sources you can generally understand what happened during an event, but you can rarely get how the person felt during the event. I’m honored and excited to continue our sessions and learn more about her life within the National Parks Service. I will continue to update you on my oral history project throughout the rest of these blogs!
This Friday I finished the first draft of my storymap (yayy)! The most difficult part of completing the draft was cutting out information. I spent my first four weeks at WORI reading and researching the five organizers and the Convention itself, but I can only include so much information within the storymap. I was grateful that the WORI park interpreters met with me to discuss what visitors are most often curious about, so I knew what to focus in on within my storymap. They all agreed that people love to hear stories about the organizers. Many people have learned about Mott or Stanton in school or through history books, but few people know the funny stories that humanize these seemingly mythical women. They all loved a good fad, had parenting disasters, and disagreements with their friends and family members. Through my research and telling of these stories, I’ve come to appreciate the fact that they were all just regular women, albeit financially secure, White women, who saw injustice being done and took action. Their activism work caused quite a stir and they were often targeted by the media, threatened by an angry public, and still they continued about their work fighting for change, which is pretty great.
A Vignette of Lucretia Mott:
This week’s vignette is about the famed activist, Lucretia Mott. Mott was a Quaker preacher and an avid activist. She fought against slavery, and later segregation, for women’s rights, and for prison reform amongst other causes. She was attacked by her critics as unwomanly, but her advocates and friends celebrated her as a wonderful mother and wife. Despite her petite frame, Mott was able to discipline her children with a look. This greatly contrasted with Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who had little control over her children’s behavior. So, Stanton knew that she could depend on Mott when she faced a parenting dilemma. Stanton encouraged her children to play outside and her eldest sons found the docks an enjoyable place to hang around. As a result, they picked up curse words from the dockworkers and began to use them in the Stanton dining room, which was often filled with important company. A frustrated Stanton asked her then houseguests, Mott and Susan B. Anthony, for advice on how to get her teenage sons to stop using curse words in her dining room. Mott, the Quaker preacher, suggested that when the boys were serving the women dinner in the dining room the women begin to use the curse words to embarrass the boys into stopping their language. So, the women began to drop curse words at the dinner table and the boys began laughing and joining in. After dinner, Mott insisted that the women continue their plan and that after a few days the humor would wear off and the embarrassment would set in. The second evening, the women continued with their plan and the boys continued to use the curse words as well. However, the third evening the women were joined by some friends, including William Seward, the guests were let in on the plan before they sat down to dinner. Once the meal commenced, Stanton, Mott, and Anthony continued to use curse words around the table, but the boys were mortified that they would use that kind of language in front of guests. They pulled their mother aside to another room and begged her to stop embarrassing them and to only use appropriate language. After some back and forth, where Stanton pointed out how their use of the language in the dining room embarrassed her just as her language was embarrassing them, the boys agreed to stop cursing in the dining room. Through her plan, Mott helped Stanton deal with her parenting dilemma. This story demonstrates both Mott’s parenting ability and her sense of humor. In the 19th Century, curse words were considered extremely vulgar, rude, and uncivilized, yet Mott’s willingness to curse at the dining table to teach two teenage boys a lesson, demonstrates Mott’s good nature and sense of humor.