As a kid, it took me some time to realise that everyone in America didn’t grow up within minutes of important historical locations. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so I would always say I was from “outside Philly” but whenever I need to give more specificity to people familiar with the area but who didn’t know my small town, I described it as “near Washington Crossing… as in Washington crossing the Delaware.” In addition to being just a few minutes’ drive from this historic location, the towns around mine are full of houses and buildings that date back to the colonial era, I used to work at a school that was owned by a doctor during the Revolutionary War (and is allegedly haunted by a Hessian soldier he operated on there), and, of course, the city of Philadelphia is only 40 minutes away.
Yesterday I visited Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution. A few blocks away from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, the museum is the perfect addition to the area. Tracing the events leading up to, during, and through the aftermath of the Revolutionary War, this well-curated exhibit features artifacts from the time period and thorough explanations of significant happenings and people. Highlights include the excellent orientation video, the original tent Washington used as his personal office during the war, and one of the oldest preserved Revolutionary-era flags of the soon-to-be United States. Most of us are already familiar with the basic history due to years of primary education (is it just me, or did we learn about the Revolutionary War pretty much every year?) but the museum does a great job of providing a comprehensive overview while also delving deeper into lesser-known moments, people, and things.
The more I learn about history, the more I learn how much I thought I knew was wrong. I’m lucky in that I’ve had a number of history teachers throughout my education who taught us about more than the America-rah-rah, white-upper-class-Christian-European-male-centric stories, but even so I’ve come to learn that there are so many stories I was never told, and so many stories that were so much more interesting and in-depth than I ever knew. So many of these stories are about women, either women whose accomplishments have been undeservedly forgotten in history, or women who are remembered in a too-superficial way, not celebrating the complexity of their lives and achievements. Here, for International Women’s Day, are five women you probably learned about in history class, but not the way you should have.
I remember reading The Miracle Worker in middle school. The story of how Anne Sullivan helped Helen Keller learn to communicate is one of the most inspiring tales of perseverance and triumph I can think of. But that’s pretty much where things ended; we got a brief summary of Keller’s work as an adult, but as far as our education was concerned, she was forever a little girl learning to spell out words on her teacher’s palm .
But if Helen Keller’s childhood is an incredible story of determination, her adulthood is even moreso. Of course, she was a staunch advocate for people with disabilities (a cause that still often goes unrecognized in feminism today), but she was also a feminist, a pacifist, an anti-racist activist, and a socialist. Her writings on workers’ rights and equality are as powerful as her ability to overcome her physical obstacles, and tend to be overlooked in favour of telling her “miracle” story.