Press/Journalists
Press Release
March 25, 1998
Major Classroom Resource Will Be Available from the National Archives

Washington, DC. . . A four-year project at the National Archives and Records Administration has unearthed twelve thousand new documentary treasures in the form of petitions written by women to Congress. With the assistance of seventy interns and volunteers, staff at the Center for Legislative Archives combed through twenty thousand cubic feet of records searching for women’s writings from the beginning of the federal government in 1789 to the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. A selection of these historic documents will be published this month by the Foundation for the National Archives in an educational resource for high school students. Funded by private-sector support, the Our Mothers Before Us: Women and Democracy, 1789 - 1920 educational resource will be distributed to 2,500 high schools in two states and three metropolitan areas.

Our Mothers Before Us features a unique collection of facsimile petitions to illustrate the important role women played in the civic life of the nation long before they won the right to vote. Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin said, "Developed for civic and history classes, this material promises to enliven the study of American history by allowing students to experience first-hand the thrill of ‘discovering’ and interpreting events of national importance. In collaboration with the Foundation for the National Archives, this publication is one of many avenues that the National Archives and Records Administration uses to make its materials accessible to the public." The documents are from the records of the United States Senate and House of Representatives maintained at the National Archives Center for Legislative Archives. Lawrence O’Brien, Foundation President, noted, "Our foundation is proud to have worked to help create another educational and historical resource of exceptional interest and quality, utilizing the Archives’ holdings."

The petitions are from famous women, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and from ordinary women who joined together to make their voices heard in the halls of Congress. These historic materials chronicle the vital role women played in shaping the course of American democracy through women’s involvement in the antislavery movement, the Civil War and Reconstruction, Progressive Era reforms, and woman suffrage.

The Center’s staff worked closely with leading historians and history teachers around the country to develop a resource that complements standard high school curricula. Period paintings grace the covers of each unit within Our Mothers Before Us and set the stage for the historical content. Each unit includes historical overviews, document essays, teaching strategies, and instructional materials. Our Mothers Before Us also includes a glossary, a list of suggested readings, and an impressive fold-out time line that situates women and their civic activities in the scope of American history.

Teachers throughout the country were consulted at each stage of the resource’s development, from selecting documents to crafting instructional materials and objectives. Master teacher Charlie Flanagan, from the Key School in Maryland, has tested the materials with his students and predicts that it will be "a tremendously valuable document package for teachers." Our Mothers Before Us provides students with a unique opportunity to study and interpret never-before-published documents from the historical records of the U.S. Congress.

With private-sector support obtained by the Foundation for the National Archives, the initial printing of the Our Mothers Before Us educational resource will be distributed to high schools in Texas, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., and the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania metropolitan area. The Fannie Mae Foundation and Southwest Airlines have generously provided national support for the project. Additional support was provided by AT&T, the LBJ Family Foundation, the Ms. Foundation for Education and Communication, Inc., Nestlé USA, Inc., and the Oracle Corporation. The Brown Foundation, Inc., Houston, provided funding for the distribution of Our Mothers Before Us to high schools in Texas, and Mrs. Jeanette Cantrell Rudy provided for the distribution to Tennessee high schools. The donor for Washington, D.C. is The Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation, and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital has underwritten distribution in the Philadelphia metropolitan area. The Foundation for the National Archives continues to seek private funding for distribution in additional states. Individual copies of Our Mothers Before Us may be purchased from the National Archives Book Store (1-800-234-8861) for $59.95 plus an additional $5.00 for shipping and handling .

Our Mothers Before Us is the second in a series of educational resources produced by the Center for Legislative Archives and the Foundation for the National Archives. The first, The Presidency of Thomas Jefferson, has been distributed through the foundation with private-sector funding to schools in eight states and is also available for purchase.

To request a copy of this educational resource for review, contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff.

For additional PRESS information, please contact the National Archives Public Affairs staff at (301) 837-1700 or by e-mail.

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