Ever wonder what women were doing during the 1800s or what is known as the antebellum period of United States history? Men are well represented in history books as they were the powerful, educated leaders of the country. Women, on the other hand, rarely had opportunities to tell their stories.
Powerful stories of brave women who helped shape the history of the United States are revealed to students through journals, letters, narratives and other primary sources. Synthesizing information from the various sources, students write their impressions of women in the Northeast, Southeast, or the West during the nineteenth century.
- Women's History
- City & Regional History
- Progressive Era to New Era, 1900-1929
- Rise of Industrial America, 1876-1900
Students will be able to:
- draw conclusions by analyzing primary source materials;
- write a persuasive letter.
One to two weeks
Preparation: Teacher planning (one - two planning periods)
Each group of students is provided a packet of primary source information. These packets will provide information on a certain category of Nineteenth Century woman.
Search or browse the collections to select primary sources to represent different types of women's experiences in the nineteenth century United States. When dealing with a long document, be selective with the text you choose to include in the packet rather than just printing the entire document. Represent various regions [Northeast, Southeast, West], races [White, Black, Hispanic], and socioeconomic levels [upper class, poor, slaves, educated, not educated] in the categories chosen. In putting the packets together, journal entries should be balanced with those that are easy to read and some that are challenging either because of content or dialect. Photographs and maps may also be included.
What can primary sources teach us about the lives of American women in the nineteenth century?
Introduction (one class period)
Teacher models analysis of a primary source packet including looking at:
- Area of residence/geographical region
- Family life
- Ethnic Background
Several different women are used in each packet to represent a category. The students' job is to create a common set of attributes for the category. Conclusions will be drawn regarding the category of woman and what the primary sources reveal about her life in the United States. For purposes of modeling the analysis of the documents, the teacher or media specialist may use a projection system to share the documents from one of the suggested categories with the whole class.
Taking Notes and Assigning Packets (two-three 45 minute class periods)
Step One: Begin class by modeling how to analyze a primary source, recording thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before beginning, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion.
Step Two: Small student groups are assigned their packets, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher's guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus and prompt analysis and discussion. Students read, highlight and take notes, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool.
Draw conclusions about the life of the woman.
Step Three: Students begin their research by using the resources from this lesson. If necessary, review and model searching in the Library of Congress online collections.
Teacher Led Discussion (One 45 minute class period)
Draw conclusions about a nineteenth century woman in America (students will use the group notes to participate in this class discussion).
- Generalities about a woman in each region (Northeast, Southeast and West)
- Analysis of family life, employment, education and ethnic background.
Possible leading Questions:
- Describe the daily life of the woman you studied in her region.
- How did the environment of the region affect the life of the woman you studied
- Put the life of the woman you studied in a different region. How would her life change?
- How did education affect the life of the woman you studied?
- How did the events of the time affect the woman you studied?
- Compare and contrast the woman you studied to a woman in a different region.
- What outside forces affected the life of the woman you studied?
- How much control did the woman you studied have over daily life decisions?
Students will write a letter (in the voice of one of the women they researched) to a person of their choice. The letter should include:
- Short reiteration of their profiled woman
- Discussion of an important issue in her life and
- Personal opinion regarding the issue.
Using primary sources, students will create a presentation about a nineteenth century woman.
Presentation Preparation (Five 45 minute class periods)
Students will create a presentation using primary sources.
Assess student work according to criteria specified by the teacher or generated in conversation with the students.
- Oral Presentation
Access this resource at:
Nineteenth Century Women: Struggle and Triumph
Library of Congress
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James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
Credits: Karen Josten & Mary Pat Phillips