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Special Subjects: Women's History Month

March 25, 2011, is the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, where 146 people workers (mostly young women)died within 18 minutes.

PBS's American Experience history series has produced an episode on the tragedy, along with a wealth of primary source materials and lesson plans. Cornell University's Industrial and Labor Relations department has also produced Remembering the Triangle Factory Fire.


The Declaration of Independence asserts, that "all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed." By the "consent of the governed." At the present time, there are, within the State of Massachusetts, not far from 200,000 women, over twenty-one years of age. Of these, less than 2,000 have asked to be admitted to the right of suffrage. From this fact, the Committee have a right to infer, and also from their personal knowledge of the views and feelings of the class of persons referred to, that a great majority of the women of Massachusetts, do willingly consent that the government of the State should be, as it hitherto has been, in the hands of their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons.

Amasa Walker, Chairman, Committee on Qualifications of Voters, 1853, responding to a petition to strike the word "male" from the Massachusetts state constitution

Giving Massachusetts women the right to vote? That was one of the radical notions to develop out of a series of conventions on women's rights in the 1850s, the most important of which was held in Massachusetts. Seneca Falls, N.Y., may have garnered more attention, but it was the first National Woman's Rights Convention held in Worcester in 1850 that set the stage for a national movement on women's rights and suffrage.

The Worcester Women's History Project Web site includes a wealth of materials about the conference and its participants, including classroom resources.

True or False? Massachusetts-born educational pioneer Mary Lyon could do which of the following: Vote? Go to medical, law, or graduate school? Wear pants? Be a minister? Run for political office? Serve in the military? Students can learn about the life and times of Mary Lyon at a Web site established by Mt. Holyoke College, one of several schools for women she founded or influenced. (The answer to all of the above, is of course, false.)

"[T]he object of the high school is threefold. 1st. to give young men a thorough business education. 2nd. To prepare young men for college. 3d. To give young ladies that exact knowledge, that complete mental culture which will fit them to become teachers, and to fill and adorn any station into which they are liable to be called." That's the assessment of J. M. Steele, Charles Goddard, and F. O. Prince) members of the Winchester, Mass., School Committee, in 1850. Ellen Knight's essay on Women and Public Education is part of the town's Web site and contains many other clues to the history of girls in public education.

"You need to believe in people's dreams, especially women's." So said "Madame" Beatrice Alexander. The doll designer is one of hundreds of women featured in the Jewish Women's Archive, a Brookline-based education project.

In the Education section of the JWA site, teachers can find lesson ideas and bibliographies as well as primary sources documenting the history of Jewish women and Jewish women's organizations throughout North America.

More Women's History Month Resources:

Lucretia Coffin Mott Papers Project
Pomona College is collecting papers and correspondence from this Nantucket-born activist in the non-violence, anti-slavery, and women's rights movements.

Women in America, 1820-1842
This University of Virginia Web project seeks to supplement the view of women presented in Toqueville's Democracy in America with accounts from the French traveler's contemporaries.

Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1775-1940
A project of the State University of New York, Binghamton, this Web site contains more than 30 document projects created by undergraduate and graduate history students, each with a wealth of primary source documents, graphics, and Web links. A "Teacher's Corner" offers more than 20 lesson plans.

"Votes for Women" Suffrage Pictures, 1850-1920
The Library of Congress' collection of prints and photos and a timeline, One Hundred Years Toward Suffrage.

Biographies of Women Mathematicians
Dozens of biographical essays on women in math through the centuries, as written by students of Atlanta's Agnes Scott College.

Not For Ourselves Alone
Resources and lesson plans created to supplement the PBS television series on the women's suffrage movement.

The Trial of Susan B. Anthony 
The Library of Congress' documentation on the arrest and trial of Anthony for voting in New York.