May 23, 2019
Here is another entry for the Museum Memories series which are blog posts about my experiences working in the museums.
The Museum Memories post this week is my experience at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society in Connecticut. According to its website, the mission of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is to engage citizens by preserving and sharing history, promoting literacy and advocating greater cultural understanding. It is located in the restored 18th-century birthplace and childhood home of Noah Webster who was the creator of the first American dictionary and the Blue-Back Speller, a teacher, a lawyer, and early abolitionist. The Blue-Back Speller, also known as the Americas Spelling Book, was published for students to use in their classrooms to learn the alphabet and how to spell words. After meeting with the Director of Education and reuniting with a colleague from Connecticut’s Old State House who is now the Executive Director, I was brought in to work at the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society.
I began working at the Noah Webster House after I graduated from Central Connecticut State University with my Masters degree in Public History, and I continued to work at Connecticut Landmarks in addition to this position. I taught school programs in colonial dress that were on site and at schools in Connecticut. Museum Teachers who taught school programs at the Noah Webster House received a binder of lesson plans. When I started I utilized the binder to get background information to use in programs, and I followed veteran museum teachers for a few programs to see different ways they executed the programs. Also, I went through the clothing supplies to see which costumes would fit and once I found the right outfit I continued to wear it in each program I taught.
Before the school groups arrived, we discuss as a group what station each of us would like to start then each museum teacher is given a schedule with times we should spend at each station (that we adjust based on when the school groups arrive). At the start of each onsite school program, teachers, chaperones, and students are greeted by the museum teachers and Director of Education and they are introduced to what they should expect during the program. Then students are split into groups and are sent with each museum teacher to the station. During the program, we follow the rotation based on where we started and follow the route until we visited each room so we do not end up in the same room at the same time. What we teach in each room for the most part depended on what program is scheduled for that morning.
The programs I taught during onsite school programs at Noah Webster House that were the most popular were Sampler of Early American Life and A Day of Living History. In the Sampler of Early American Life program, students have the opportunity to explore the historic house and learn about colonial clothing, foods, and medicines, while also trying their hand at 18th-century “women’s” and “men’s” work in each of the rooms of the house. Teachers also have the opportunity to add on either the Colonial Schoolhouse or Hearth Cooking to their students’ experience. In the museum part of the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, there is a reproduction of a one-room school house that each museum teacher including myself bring students in to talk about and demonstrate what going to school was like back in the 1700s. Also, we have a recreation of an 18th century kitchen we use to have students help create flatjacks and the museum teachers cook the flatjacks over the hearth.
In the A Day of Living History program, students research and play the roles of families who lived in Noah Webster’s neighborhood in 1774. When students arrive at the house, we each play a role of who they were back in 1774 and the museum teachers as their 18th century counterparts tell them that Mrs. Webster would like some help with chores to prepare for that day’s dinner (or lunch in the 21st century). The students moved around the house as they did chores, attended school, learned how to dance, play games, and cooked their lunches they will have at the end of the program. One of my favorite aspects of this program, and the Sampler program, is cooking over a hearth because it allows the students to see how their hard work pays off when they share what they made together; each group has the opportunity to add ingredients to vegetable stew and hoecakes, and churn butter to spread on top of the hoecakes. Everyone, including teachers, museum teachers, and chaperones, gets an opportunity to try vegetable stew, hoecakes and butter. Also, I always got a kick out of playing my 18th century counterpart not only because I can work on utilizing my old acting skills but when I was assigned to the counterpart she was a 50 year old widow who took care of her son and his children; at the time I was in my 20s so the kids would always get confused when I talked about my grandchildren, and I would be laughing on the inside.
I also traveled to schools in Connecticut to teach pre and post visit programs so we would know how much the students know before coming and after their visit. Plus I taught a colonial summer program that would last at least a week where kids learned colonial crafts, completed chores, cooked corn chowder, play games, explored Noah Webster’s house and garden, and learning about farm life at Westmoor Park including taking care of barnyard animals. My experiences have been valuable to me as I look back on my time at the House. I learned more skills including learning how to cook more recipes over a hearth and colonial dancing, and these skills I still remember today (it is good to know that if the power goes out and I don’t have a gas oven I will know how to cook over a fire).
If you have any questions about my experience, please contact me on my Contact page.
To learn more about the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society, please visit their website.