Saturday, March 6, 2010

Shirtwaists and Social Studies


Shirtwaists. 1909 Delineator. The Nicholson women made their own shirtwaists, but the Sears and Eaton's Catalogues were filled with ready-made ones. In 1911, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New Jersey burned down, killing many workers, many of these young girls. This spurred the union movement in the United States. (YouTube has a piece on the event.)
As I continue with Flo in the City, my novel in progress about the coming of age of a girl in the pivotal 1908-1913 era, based on the letters of http://www.tighsolas.ca/ I feel energized, a bit, by something I discovered yesterday.
I know that some scholars appreciate the work I did with http://www.tighsolas.ca/ , a rather humble social studies website, with letters from the 1910 era. I also know that over the years many schools have visited the site, especially in BC and in the Catholic sector of Ontario. (Not many schools in Quebec come to my site, which is sad.)
Anyway, yesterday, I found evidence that the website is being used to good purpose in some classrooms. A social studies teacher posted an assignment asking his students to examine http://www.tigholas.ca/ and write about 1) what things have changed 2) what things have stayed the same 3) and what family letters can teach us about history.
The students' answers were very interesting. In fact, THEY GOT IT! They saw that people back then were no different from people today, although their lives were a bit different. "They wrote letters. They had no email or text messaging." The students were particulary struck by the fact that some kids dropped out of school in the elementary grades and that grown women couldn't live on their own or with other women. And, of course, they were struck by the fact women covered their entire bodies in cloth. One student remarked that they had social classes back then.
Another student observed that people gossiped a lot back then. So right! In fact, gossip is a major feature of my story, Flo in the City.
So, now I will continue with this exericise, writing my first draft of Flo in the City buoyed by the fact that students today can, indeed, learn something useful (and original) from this story.