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American Revolution, NOT rich white men

Ms. Katie’s third-grade class sent home a note letting families know about their Revolutionary War project, a collection of essays titled History’s Unknown Heroes: Uncovering Massachusetts’s Revolutionary Heroes:

In third grade, we were studying the American Revolution, and we noticed there were a lot of important people whose stories are not told that much. The only type of people whose stories are told a lot are rich, white men. Our third grade class decided to change that, and write about people whose stories are not told that much. These people did such amazing things, and we hope these people will inspire you…We hope you will learn something new from these biographies. You too should write about people whose stories don’t get told.

With Ms. Anna’s third-grade class, they also wrote and performed (at a real theater!) a play based on their work called Free, Equal, and Independent. I was so intrigued by this project, I wanted to know more. I went in to talk with the class about how they did their research, how they chose the people they did, and why they think it’s important for more people’s stories from history to be told — and I was blown away by some of the insights. And then I was a fly on the wall during a FaceTime conversation between the class and Doreen Rappaport, who had read every child‘s essay and had something writerly to say to each person. The class also wrote a very compelling letter to Candlewick Press about their project, which Doreen delivered on their behalf.

This has inspired me to let you all know about Sybil Ludington. As I grew up learning the story, Sybil Ludington was the sixteen-year-old daughter of a militiaman colonel (Henry Ludington) who rode through the night alerting townspeople and rallying militiamen about an attack by British troops on my hometown of Danbury, Connecticut. So, she was like Paul Revere — only female, a teenager, and her ride was longer (40-50 miles to his 20ish). You can read more about her in Victory or Death!: Stories of the American Revolution by Doreen Rappaport and Joan Verniero (HarperCollins, 2003).

Now, as I was reminded in History’s Unknown Heroes, because these people’s stories “are not told that much,” there’s less information about them and the historical record can be sketchy — and as we learned from Doreen Rappaport’s stop-the-presses example of Deborah Samson (without the p, among other things!), the information can be very contradictory. So, some people don’t think Sybil Ludington actually did what she did. There are a lot of things I could say about that regarding microaggressions and patriarchy-smashing (and read Carole Boston Weatherford’s Horn Book at Simmons quote on a related topic), but what I really want to know is: who’s your unknown hero from history?

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Elissa Gershowitz About Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She is a current member of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee.

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Comments

  1. Kitty Flynn Kitty Flynn says:

    Albert Cashier (born in Ireland in 1843; died in Illinois in 1915). He fought for the Union Army during the civil war. He was born female but enlisted as a male and lived as a male for the rest of his life. I don’t know if he would have identified as transgender if the term been around then, but he’s a hero to the trans community today.

  2. Wow! Thanks Kitty! Picture book biography, please?

  3. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    Kitty, that’s awesome!

  4. You know, one of the reasons I loved the Lives of the Saints as a child was that it included women, children, and people from many cultures around the world. Most of them were poor or became so over their lifetime so it was a nice counterbalance to the the white and wealthy version of history I saw at school.
    So how about Elizabeth Ann Seton founder of the Sisters of Charity who provided skilled nursing to victims of typhus epidemics in NY at a time when nursing was commonly a job given to convicted prisoners. She and her sisters were also instrumental in the care of orphans and refugees and in the founding of schools. Or Pierre Toussaint, a former slave who was a brilliant fundraiser and supported many important charitable works in NY in the early 1800s. There are literally hundreds more but I’m writing about New York in the 1860s at the moment so these two sprang to mind.

  5. Kitty Flynn Kitty Flynn says:

    Elissa–YES!! Someone has to write it! There’s a middle-grade novel about him (MY LAST SKIRT by Lynda Durrant), but if I remember correctly, he’s misgendered and -named. Oh, just looked it up. The subtitle: “THE STORY OF JENNIE HODGERS, UNION SOLDIER.”

  6. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Back in the late 60s/early 70s I used to DEVOUR a set of comics about figures in African American history. In my memory, there were at least 12 comics and were about even between women and men. And of course none were ever mentioned in the predominantly white school I attended. I think Andrew Aydin mentioned (will mention) the series in the July HB Magazine. I would LOVE to find them again to see if they are good as I remember, but am guessing they are hugely collectable & out of my price range now. Anyway, Crispus Attucks was one, and of course he’s from MA and figures in the revolutionary war.

  7. Lolly Robinson Lolly Robinson says:

    Just found them — Golden Legacy series and quite affordable! But only one woman. Could have sworn I read Harriet Tubman, Sojournor Truth, and more. Memory…unreliable.

  8. Katie Bircher Katie Bircher says:

    Kitty: UGH that sucks. 🙁

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