The United States, in the 1880s, had become an industrial power in the world, but factory workers could hardly feed their families. Miners spent long days down in the dangerous dark, digging a wealth of coal out of the earth, yet they were dirt-poor. Farm families were going broke too. They barely had the money to pay rich bankers the interest on loans they took out to buy seeds or to pay what the railroad charged to ship the crops that hadn’t dried up in a drought or got gobbled by hungry grasshoppers. Many a broke homesteader went back east. Lettered on the covers of their wagons: “IN GOD WE TRUSTED. IN KANSAS WE BUSTED!”
Mary E. Lease, a Pennsylvania schoolteacher, went to Kansas, but she stayed there. And she was among the multitudes, who wondered why so many Americans were so poor in a country that was so rich? Where was the money going? Judging from what she read in the papers and heard down at the general store, the money seemed to be in the pockets of men who owned the mines, factories, railroads, and banks. And rather than pay people decent wages, they seemed to be paying politicians to make laws to help them stay rich and get richer. Sound familiar?
In the early 1890s, folks got together and formed their own “People’s (or Populist) Party.” What did they want? Fairness, more government regulations, less silver, and more printed paper money. It wouldn’t be worth as much; but at least there’d be more of it to go around! And right in the middle of this uprising was fiery Mrs. Lease.
At rallies around the Midwest, the South, even at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Mrs. Lease whipped up the crowds, crying out, “We are for humanity against the corporations – for perishing flesh and blood against the money bags!” People called her a “Patrick Henry in petticoats,” after the great Revolutionary War speechmaker. “Wall Street owns the country. When I get through with the silk-hatted easterners, they will know that the Kansas prairies are on fire!”
Oh, they knew it all right, for a while anyway. While it raged, this political tornado blew nine Populists into Congress. But the people’s movement fizzled out in the early 1900s. At least old Mrs. Lease lived to see some populist dreams come true. In the early 1930s, when so many Americans hit bottom, Franklin D. Roosevelt became President. Under FDR’s “New Deal” policies, the people got help from their very own government and the Wall Street banks and businesses were reined for a considerable time. Ah, but they’ve regained much of their former power and Mary E. Lease lies restless in her grave.
The perfect browsing volume for Women's History Month, Cheryl Harness's Rabble Rousers offers short, spirited profiles of twenty women who, like Mary E. Lease, impacted life in America by speaking out against injustice and fighting for social improvements. The folksy, friendly narrative introduces such fascinating figures as Sojourner Truth, abolitionist preacher; Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, a Civil War physician; Margaret Sanger, birth control pioneer; and Doris Haddock, a ninety-two-year-old champion of campaign-finance reform. The book spans over two hundred years of American history and includes time lines for such important social movements as abolition, woman suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Readers inspired by these fiery women can use the civil action tips and resources in the back of the book to do some of their own rabble-rousing. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Mary E. Lease: Queen of the Populist Tornado." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 12 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Why is Black History Month celebrated in February?
The answer is really quite love-ly.
For Black people enslaved, a birthday was as hard to come by as justice. But, never one to be outdone by the “impossible,” Frederick Bailey wanted a birthday—and a birthday he was going to have. First, he'd have to find out when it was.
He’d heard that his father was the slave owner from whom he'd escaped, so he couldn't ask him. His mother, Harriet Bailey, had been sold away from him when he was only five, so he couldn't ask her. But, he could remember stories she'd told him before they’d been separated.
She said he was born on a Maryland plantation in the ‘teens. He chose the mid-teens, 1818, for his birth year. She always called him her “little valentine.” He chose Valentine’s Day for his birth date. With that, Frederick finally had the birthday he'd always wanted: February 14, 1818.
Then . . .
In 1926, Dr. Carter G. Woodson wanted to solve a problem. For centuries, Americans were taught to believe that African Americans had “no history or culture.” Now that is, of course, impossible. Everyone inherits the history and culture of their family elders. But, this horrific idea was used to justify slavery and segregation by making Black people seem less than human.
Dr. Woodson had a better idea: he’d tell the truth. He would research and share the true history of Black people in countries throughout the world over.
To promote his idea, he created Negro History Week (now, Black History Month). He chose February in honor of two birthdays. Born on February 12, 1809, Abraham Lincoln was the first American president to take action to end slavery. Born on February 14, 1818 Harriet Bailey’s “little Valentine's” became the noted Underground Railroad conductor, abolitionist, and publisher, Frederick Douglass. As a special adviser to President Lincoln, he proposed—and the president wrote and signed—the “Emancipation Proclamation”; ending slavery.
Such is the power of love.
We never know how we will remember what our parents say or what their words will mean to us when we need them most. Frederick's mother—an enslaved woman with so little to give—empowered her son for life with the gift of her enduring love.
For this love-ly reason, February is Black History Month.
Frederick Bailey's mother was sold to a new owner, leaving the 5-year-old behind. This was a common practice in the slavery era.
Abraham Lincoln's successful campaign to end slavery in the United States culminated in the Emancipation Declaration of 1863. Alexander Gardner via Wikimedia Commons
;In 1926, Carter G. Woodson (left) shown here as a young man, pioneered the celebration of "Negro History Week" during the second week in February, to coincide with marking the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln (above) and Frederick Douglass (right). Black United Students and Black educators at Kent State University expanded the celebration to become Black History Month on February 1, 1970. Woodson Courtesy of the New River Gorge National River website, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, United States Government; Douglass via Wikimedia Commons.
Janus Adams has produced Steal Away-- a package of a book, an audio and a game about the Underground Railroad. You can learn more about her award-winning series of adventure and travel books, audios and games on her website called Back Pax Kids.
MLA 8 Citation
Adams, Janus. "Title tbd." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Feb. 2018,
History happens everywhere—even your own backyard. Have you ever heard of Carrie Chapman Catt?
From 1919-1928 Carrie lived in a house near mine called Juniper Ledge. She was a suffragist, one of many who fought for women’s right to vote. Without her, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which gave women the vote, might never have been approved.
Born in 1859 and raised in Iowa, Carrie got an early lesson in politics when she asked why her mother wasn’t voting in the 1872 presidential election. Everyone laughed, but not Carrie. She thought it unfair that women couldn’t vote—and wasn’t afraid to say so.
In college Carrie joined a literary society. Women were forbidden from speaking during meetings. After Carrie spoke at a debate, the rules were changed to allow women’s participation.
A woman of many “firsts,” Carrie worked as a teacher after graduation and became one of the first female school superintendents in the country. After marrying she moved to San Francisco. When her husband died she supported herself by working as that city’s first female newspaper reporter.
Back in Iowa, Carrie joined the Iowa Woman Suffrage Association, part of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), led by Susan B. Anthony. Carrie’s rousing speeches brought her national attention. When Susan retired, Carrie became NAWSA’s president, leading suffrage campaigns all over the country and supervising a million volunteers.
Carrie’s “Winning Plan” for the vote worked on both state and federal levels. She supported President Woodrow Wilson’s efforts in World War I, even though she was a peace activist. She knew if Wilson backed women’s suffrage, Congress would vote for it. And that’s exactly what happened.
Carrie’s activism didn’t stop at the U.S. border. As founder and president of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, she advocated for democracy and women’s rights on four continents. She also founded the League of Women Voters to educate women on political issues, worked for world peace, and campaigned against child labor and Hitler’s treatment of Jews.
When the Nineteenth Amendment was approved in 1920, Carrie was living at Juniper Ledge. There she nailed plaques to trees in honor of women who fought for the vote.
Juniper Ledge still stands, right down the street from the park where today kids play ball. Who knows what other people, places and stories from the past they may find in the neighborhood?
Giving Voice to Children in History
In 1843, thirty-one-year-old Charles Dickens had money problems. His wife was expecting their sixth child, he was in debt, and he supported a slew of needy relatives. He was known for long novels that were published in weekly installments, but because time was of the essence, he decided to write a short story (actually a long story by our standards, but short by his) that he could publish quickly.
The British were enamored with the paranormal, so he decided it would be a ghost story. To increase interest, he included THREE ghosts. And to seal the deal, he added a bonus apparition that appeared at the stroke of midnight, dragging its chains from hell. That would get readers’ attention.
He didn’t intend to simply entertain them. He was Charles Dickens, after all, and his writing was also meant to inspire. His family had once been poor, and his quest, as always, was to help the less fortunate. The tale he crafted happened at Christmas, a holiday that in England included charitable giving—the perfect setting for his message that charity must come from the heart, and that it’s never too late for redemption.
From his fertile imagination he conjured up Ebenezer Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” whose refrain to anything distasteful was “Bah, Humbug!” Scrooge represented the self-serving upper classes, while his poorly paid clerk, Bob Cratchit, and his family, including sickly Tiny Tim, represent the deserving poor.
Dickens sent Scrooge on a wild night’s journey, led by the ghosts of Christmases past, present, and future. Scrooge visited his childhood and learned why he’d become such a miserable miser, and he saw a grim future awaiting him if he didn’t change his ways. By sunrise Christmas morning he was a new man: his hard heart had melted and he became a good friend to the poor, beginning with the Cratchit family. He resolved to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
To Dickens’ delight, his readers did the same. In example after example, A Christmas Carol inspired the upper classes to be more charitable to the lower classes. And because the book became a bestseller, it eased Dickens’ financial worries.
Dickens’ ghost story remains popular today, reminding us all that it’s never too late to do the right thing, and allowing us to proclaim with Tiny Tim, “God Bless Us, Every One!”
You can learn more about Charles Dickens and his stories in Andrea Warren’s book Charles Dickens and the Street Children of London and on her website.
Andrea Warren is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Warren, Andrea. "Dickens' A Christmas Carol: How a Short Story with a Big Message Helped the Poor." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/Dickens-a-christmas-carol.
You need to write a biography, a story of someone’s life. What do you do to discover the person’s silly quirks or darkest secrets? Probably you go online. That’s a good start, but that’s all it is—a start. Real authors—and students completing assignments—dig deeper. Only by checking a variety of resources can you find the juiciest facts to make your biographies come alive.
For example, when I write about someone, I start by reading an overview of their life. I might check a general resource, such as Wikipedia, But not all information is accurate in this or other websites, so I play detective to locate resources that confirm what I’m reading. One way to find good resources is to look at the bottom of the Wikipedia article and see which articles and books that author used as resources. If these sources seem credible to you, click to find the original articles the author used.
Another source of information is your librarian. Librarians love to delve into the craziest topics. Need to locate a long-lost relative of your biography subject or trail where that person lived over the years, ask your librarian. Librarians locate books, specialized online resources, and newspapers and magazines that can help you.
When I researched Dolores Huerta Stands Strong: The Woman Who Demanded Justice, I wanted more personal resources. So I looked for people to interview who knew her at different times of her life. I called up volunteers who marched with Dolores to protest unfair treatment of farm workers. I found others who helped the public learn not to eat table grapes until farm owners agreed to pay farm workers fair wages and provide clean housing, breaks in the fields, and places to go to the bathroom. When I wanted to learn how Dolores Huerta worked to improve lives of women, I contacted Gloria Steinem, a leader of the 1970s women’s movement. I talked with Huerta’s children.
I prepared before each interview. I learned about connections between the interviewees and my biography subject. I wrote questions ahead of time, so I wasn’t wasting interviewee time. At the end of each interview, I asked: “Is there something else you remember?’ That’s when I got some of the best stories.
Between interviews, books, magazine and newspaper articles, I found enough material to tell Huerta’s life. You can with your biography, too.
Once you've researched and written your biography, you will probably want to add a picture of your subject. You've probably seen many pictures during your research, but you must be careful about permission to use photographs or drawings. You can find some good guidelines at How to Find Free Images With Google's Advanced Image Search.
This photo of Delores Huerta is from her Wikipedia article. Most photos from Wikipedia may be used for non business purposes. By clicking on a picture, you are taken to Wikimedia, the place where photos reside. You will be able to download a photo and decide how you want to caption it.
Here's what it says about this photo in Wikimedia:
Description English: Dolores speaking at an event in Phoenix, Arizona.
Date: 20 March 2016
Author: Gage Skidmore
This information will allow you to tell your reader about the photo in the form of a caption and also credit your source:
Delores Huerta speaking at an event in Phoenix Arizona on March 20, 1916. Photo by Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia
Marlene Targ Brill's Dolores Huerta Stands Strong follows Huerta’s life from the mining communities of the Southwest where her father toiled, to the vineyards and fields of California, and across the country to the present day. As she worked for fair treatment for others, Dolores earned the nation’s highest honors. More important, she found her voice.