Cooking in the Ford Home. / Photo by Ken Giorlando
Cindy Melotti is currently master presenter and house lead at the Ford Home, which is often considered to be the intellectual center of Greenfield Village. I had the honor of working alongside her in the Ford Home and Daggett Farmhouse in 2012. Cindy captivates guests with her energetic and authentic storytelling, and I’m delighted to chat with her about 17 years of adventures at The Henry Ford.
What did you do before you worked at The Henry Ford? And why were you interested in working here?
I worked at Wyandotte Public Schools as an elementary school teacher for 35 years, mostly in the upper elementary grades. Not surprisingly, I taught language arts and social studies. It was interesting in that we didn't really use textbooks. We, like Henry Ford, thought history should not be just about memorizing generals, dates, and wars. So I taught my social studies classes in a more contextual way. We learned about people in the times that they lived, and how they lived, not just timelines and titles.
I had always wanted to work at The Henry Ford. After retiring from Wyandotte Public Schools and taking a couple years to think about it, I decided that I was going to try and get a job here. So I went to a job fair. I didn't even tell my husband and my family that I was going, because I was afraid I wouldn't be accepted. This was actually the first time I wrote a resume. And it was the first time I applied for a job since I got my teaching position, which was when Lyndon Baines Johnson was president! I was as scared as a 16-year-old sitting there waiting to be interviewed. Despite there not being any historical presenter positions open, [The Henry Ford staffer] Mike Moseley recognized that I had the potential to be a good presenter. Thankfully, I got an interview with Cathy Cwiek, our former manager of domestic life. I got the job and was in training within a week.
Do you have any highlights of your teaching career or adventurous experiences that you’d like to share?
Well, a person of my age very typically followed the dictates of society at that time. I always wanted to be a teacher. I was fortunate to be able to go to Wayne State University. My parents were a one-income family, and we didn’t have a whole lot of money. So I considered myself lucky that I got hired by the school district where I student taught. I worked there for 35 years.
The brightest highlights for me are the memories of the children and their families. Some I still associate with and frequently talk to. I am still delighted to find out that I had a really big impact on a former student’s life. Once I became friends with a woman whose best friend from college remembered me from the fourth grade. She said that her friend had broken her arm near the start of the year, so she wasn’t able to write. This student was already ashamed of her handwriting, as she had been previously criticized in another class. She was telling our mutual friend that she had been so tense about this issue. And she said that I saved her life by suggesting she use a typewriter!
After all this time, this former student was so encouraged by my advice, she was still talking about it as an adult to her best friend. To think that I made that much difference in this this child's life! It was so wonderful that this story got back to me.
And in another instance on Facebook, one woman made a comment to me: “I just wanted to let you know that you were the most important teacher I ever had.” Never would I have expected that. It's amazing. Now, it was hard work. It was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed myself, but I never really thought about the impact I had on people's whole lives.
But those are the kind of things when you asked about adventurous experiences, that was the adventure. I guess the adventure was working with people and hopefully making an impact on their lives and making their lives better—making them better to fit their lives.
And of course, there's part of that that goes into presenting at The Henry Ford too. Because every guest that you interact with, you want their experience to make a difference. You want them to be different and more open to our stories when they leave, than when they came in.
Which historic homes and what programs have you worked at?
When I started in 2005, everyone in domestic life started at Daggett Farm. You also worked in uniform at the Noah Webster Home, Hermitage Slave Quarters, and the Mattox [Family] Home. You had to work your way into the Susquehanna Plantation and the Adams [Family Home]. Well, I never quite got to do that before they made me the house lead at the Ford Home, which was I think was 2007–2008. I eventually presented at Susquehanna Plantation. As I became a master presenter, they could schedule me in any home, really. I always wanted to work at Adams House, and I never got in there before it was closed for renovation. I can work at Firestone Farmhouse. And I’ve worked at the Edison Homestead.
I’m trying to think of the clothes I have in my closet, which period clothes are hanging there? So, it's Daggett, Edison, Ford Home, and Firestone, which are the buildings where we dress in period clothing. And then I wore the field uniform at Webster, Hermitage, and Mattox. I have also worked on a number of programs with the Henry Ford Academy.
Preparing food at Daggett Farm. / Photo by Ken Giorlando
What is your favorite home to work in?
I've been house lead at the Ford Home for over 10 years, so that’s a contender. I’ll always love Daggett Farm, and I’ll always say, once a Daggetteer, always a Daggetteer. But I really can’t say what my favorite building is.
Now with the Ford Home, people think it's strange when I'm elsewhere in the village besides the Ford Home. I'm like a fence post almost. I put in a lot of work at that house when they made me the lead, and I’m seen here most often.
The Ford Home was categorized differently over the years. It was part of the Ford Motor Company group when I started as a presenter. And then it went to the domestic life group. So the story of the home needed a little extra attention by then. We needed to work on the stories, and make sure they were authentic and correct. So that's when Cathy Cwiek asked me to upgrade the presentation at the building.
For about three or four years, anyone who presented there, if they were asked a question that wasn't in the manual, we wrote it down and researched it. That's why the manual is now very thick. Because when guests go into the Ford Home, they're not just asking about Henry Ford growing up in the house. There are so many different aspects of that house that are asked about and you want to be able to answer. Ford Home certainly demands a lot of work. But as much as I love Daggett, I really cannot pick a favorite.
Front of Ford Home. / Photo by Ken Giorlando
What is the relevance of the Ford Home within the village? I’ve considered it to be the intellectual center. Do you see it this way as well?
Well as Cathy Cwiek said when I became the house lead, the Ford Home is the cornerstone of the village. We needed to tell a more full story. We really want to have the best stories told there. In one perspective, Henry Ford restored and saved his childhood home to memorialize his beloved mother. His home played a big role in eventually developing the village and the museum itself.
And then there’s the perspective that you have this space that when you sit in it, you must realize the brilliant ideas that bounced off those walls from a little boy who eventually used those ideas to change the world. And when you think of that, it's awe-inspiring. The key for every presenter in any home is that it isn't about the house—it's about the people who lived in it and their ideas.
Presenters only have so much time to try and tell these stories as guests go through the house. You just never know what's going to interest the guests as they come in. You must have your background and information ready for basically any question. Plus, in many cases, the Ford Home is the first house that our guests visit. As they enter the village, they either go to the left to Firestone Farm, or they go to the right to the Ford Home.
A good presentation can set the tone for every guest’s entire day, especially for those who have never been here before. They’re not always aware of the scope of our campus. They might say: I have an hour, what should I see? In many ways, we are the ambassadors for the whole village at that point, and we can set the tone for an international guest or someone from out of state. We can set the tone for their whole day. We want to make sure the tone is one of positiveness, curiosity, interest, and amazement of the stories we have to share.
I know you have a lot of favorite stories about what you most like about working here, but perhaps you can pick one right off the top of your head?
If I can pick out a little snapshot, it would be during Holiday Nights [in Greenfield Village] in the Ford Home. I was in the dining room in the back, and a three-generation family came in. They were in the parlor up front where we've got the tree up with music and lighting, and I'm listening to their 10-year-old boy who’s giving my presentation! And he is spot on!
When the family came through the house to me, I said to the boy: “wow, you really did a good job telling our story.” He said: “of course, I was here on a field trip this year.” I love to tell this story because despite this kid having access to all the bells and whistles of electronics and technology—this kid learned it from our field trip program. I’m proud to say we’re still reaching an audience and, yes, we have a future and a purpose. This little boy is telling the story, and his whole family is interested.
There are so many instances when I’m very happy to see guests leave the building with a look as if they’re saying: “wow, I need to think about this.” I try my best to encourage them to understand that, as much of what we thought was true in history, there are preconceptions that aren’t always true, and you need to think in terms of the time and the setting of the place to understand what was going on.
This leads me to my cheese straw story. Before it was closed for renovation, the Adams House made these cheese straws, which were a specific recipe for that house. They could not be made at the Ford Home. When they closed Adams, we were now able to make them at the Ford Home. I had heard how good these cheese straws were and I was excited. We made the first batch, and after they came out of the oven, we just kind of sat there and looked at them. They were these flat, long things. I thought they were going to turn out puffier. They didn't rise at all. We realized that they were named, not after a modern sipping straw, but after actual straw from a field. We were completely off the mark.
When we look back at history, we need to ask ourselves: if my modern perception doesn’t allow me to understand what a cheese straw was, how can I use my modern perception to say, understand our Civil War? How do we understand a single event back then when we’re looking through our modern eyes and not going further? We encourage that “aha” moment that opens your mind for the stories that are accurate, instead of stories based in preconceptions or fantasy.
Spinning wool at Daggett Farm. / Photo by Ken Giorlando
What skills have you picked up and learned how to do and demonstrate at the village?
Well, there are textile skills like carding, spinning, and dying wool that I’ve done at Daggett. I did do some weaving on the big old colonial loom when that was set up inside Daggett. But I only had a little experience on that because I was so short. I had to jump down to change the bottom pedals, so it would take me an awfully long time. But I did work successfully on the treadle wheel that you pump with your foot. That's very difficult to do, as I was spinning with linen. Linen is a whole different process compared to wool.
Also, during the first year I was here, we had candle dipping over in the Liberty Craftworks area, near where the Davidson-Gerson Gallery of Glass is now. We wore field uniforms. We were considering it to be a craft at the time, as opposed to it being part of a culture or time period. That was my first experience with it. Candle dipping was a lot cooler in period clothing and more fun to set up under the trees next to Daggett or the [William Holmes] McGuffey Birthplace, where the activity fit with the history of the building.
Screenshot of 1876 centennial program at the Ford Home for WDIV.
Along with this WDIV segment, and a previous video promoting Fall Flavor making an 1860s apple cake, you were most recently involved in a video celebrating the Fourth of July in 1876 outside the Ford Home recorded during the pandemic. Could you tell us how this came about?
Yes, it was 2020 during COVID, and we were unable to host Salute to America. Over the years, we had developed a Fourth of July program specifically for the 1876 centennial at the Ford Home. And I was asked if I could do a video presentation of this program. I didn’t know what the filming was for at the time. I thought it was for a kind of video that we do for in-house purposes.
We filmed this on June 16. We didn't open the village up until July 2. And I came in early to work to do the video. It was basically a sample of the program we would do for a Fourth of July holiday at the Ford Home—a few of the games and the food that we’d make. So it was fun.
It wasn't until after filming that I learned that this was not being used for our website. I learned that it was for a WDIV Fourth of July virtual celebration! It was a surprise for sure, but we are presenters. And just because there's a camera there doesn't change the energy and information you give. You know, it's what we do.
So WDIV aired this the following Friday night at 8 p.m., and they broadcast snippets of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra playing, along with my Ford Home centennial program. It was hosted by Tati Amare, who I met previously. Of course, they filmed theirs, and I filmed mine, and it was only on television that we met, so I couldn't say hello again. But they pieced it all together as a virtual presentation for the holiday on WDIV. I was honored to be a part of it.
So you’ve been in many pictures and videos. Can you think of any other fun or unusual stories regarding getting your picture taken?
When I was going through training in 2005, and we needed to sign the waiver to give permission for The Henry Ford to use our photographs, guess who said: “why would anybody want to take my picture?” Ironically, my picture has been in so many places. It’s been amazing. I knew within a month that I asked this that I had made a silly statement, because I realized that guests are taking our pictures all the time and sending them all over the world. Presenters are world travelers in that way.
I remember presenting at Edison Homestead one day during our noon meal, and an Asian guest came in and he wanted his picture taken with us. We handed him a cup to hold, to make it look like he was having a meal with us. A young couple also came in and they graciously took this photo of us. I turned to the gentleman and asked where our picture was going. And he said it was going to Beijing, China. Well, I didn't want the young couple to feel left out, so I asked where they were visiting from. The young man said Wyandotte, Michigan—and then he said that I had been his teacher! This is the experience of presenter. You can have a visitor from Beijing, China, and also someone that you knew years before in your classroom. Like, how does this happen?
Did you have any experiences at the Ford Home of guests reaffirming stories of Henry Ford’s life? Any other surprising interactions with guests?
When I first started working at the Ford Home around 2007, I used to get guests who had firsthand memories of the Fords, just little stories. People who had funny interactions with the Ford family, for instance, neighborhood kids who would be playing on the farm, when it was in its original location, and they’d get caught.
I remember there was an elderly man who would take walks in the village in the morning, and he told me once that he used to drive by the Ford Home every day on his way to work when it was located on Ford Road. And sometimes he’d see Henry Ford walking around. He’d be picking vegetables and fruits to put in baskets that would be placed on the porches of neighbors who didn’t have enough food. I heard stories like that all the time. But all of a sudden, kind of recently, I realized those guests are gone, that generation is gone.
So the guest in 2009 who was 78 years old when he told me this story about getting caught by Henry Ford—he said it was actually his brother's fault. He also told me about the time the Ford family was moving the house to the village, and he got on his bike and followed it down the road. I have a pile of stories that were told to me. You come to think that after hearing the same story over and over again, that there is truth to them, and that's exciting.
I have at least twice had guests tell me stories that I've read in my research, which is amazing. There’s the story of the Vagabonds—Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs—when they were driving around Kentucky or Tennessee. There were no roads, so they had to follow river beds and try to find open areas to drive. They were scouting and looking for forests and sources of wood, because they needed wood to build Model Ts. Henry Ford owned many forested areas for that purpose.
And to paraphrase a story, the Vagabonds were driving through the wilderness, and their car got stuck. A farmer came by and used his horse to get them out. As the story goes in the research that we have in our Ford Home manual, Henry Ford introduces himself to the farmer. Thomas Edison introduces himself to the farmer. Harvey Firestone was there, and he introduces himself. And then John Burroughs who has this long white beard, right? He says: “well, you know, if you want to believe those guys then you can believe I’m Santa Claus!” Now, there are other ways people have told this story, of course.
Back to the Ford Home, I’m presenting and there's a three-generation family who comes in and we're talking about the house and the history, and the man said: I have a Ford story. He said: “my great grandfather had one of the first Ford dealerships (around Kentucky or Tennessee) and my grandfather told me the story about how Ford and his friends got stuck in a riverbed and one of our local farmers with horses pulled them out.”
The guest went on to explain that it wasn't long after this incident happened that a Ford tractor was delivered to the dealership to be given to the farmer who had helped them out. Isn't that amazing? I was delighted then to tell him and his family about the Vagabonds introducing themselves to the farmer. So where else could you ever present where you hear a direct story from a family that you had read about in a book as part of your research? You know, what's not to like about that?
One of the most emotionally powerful days I ever worked in the Ford Home was on the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's death. In the museum, they took Lincoln’s chair out and put it up on a platform behind the cornerstone. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see it. However, there is a connection to Lincoln's death at the Ford Home. We have a photo in the sitting room of Barney Litogot, Henry Ford’s uncle on his mother, Mary Litogot’s, side. Barney was in the 24th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, part of the famed “Iron Brigade,” serving as an honor guard on the train carrying Lincoln to his final resting site in Springfield, Illinois.
I told Barney’s story to the guests who had already been to the museum and seen the chair. I really wish that I could have had a camera taking pictures of people’s expressions, because they were so moved, even crying. The museum exhibit, along with Barney’s story, was so emotional. It was just so special to be a part of that immediate tie-in to that event in our country's history, and I don't know that you could have felt too much closer. Presenting an artifact, a story, an emotion—that is what we do best.
I really love the story of Barney, and I’ve visited his burial site at Sandhill Cemetery on Telegraph Road near the I-75 ramp in Taylor, Michigan. And I always wave as I drive by and say: “hi, Barney”!
Yes, I do too! My husband doesn’t even think I’m weird anymore, he’s used to it! I always say hi to Barney. Speaking of the Litogots, the Litogot family had a reunion in the village a few years ago. They visited the Ford Home, and I got to talk to them for about 10–15 minutes. And they were talking about Uncle Barney as he was a true part of their family. It was really cool. You just never know who's going to walk through the door.
I've had fun remembering all these stories and experiences, and it's really hard to rank anything when you've been doing it for so long. But every experience and interaction deals with a relationship with guests and co-workers, and that's where the good stuff comes from. When you look over everything that goes on at The Henry Ford, it's a wonderful job, and it's why people get hooked.
Amy Nasir is Digital Marketing Specialist and former Historical Presenter in Greenfield Village at The Henry Ford.
When thinking about the celebrated figures in decorative arts history, one first thinks of individuals like Thomas Chippendale, Duncan Phyfe, and Gustav Stickley in furniture, Paul Revere and Tiffany and Company in silver, and Josiah Wedgwood in ceramics. All these prominent figures have something in common—they all are men. There are few celebrated female leaders in the decorative arts. This may be due to the scholarly focus on great men, to the detriment of women, until recent years.
Cover of Tried by Fire by Susan Frackelton, 1886. / THF627718
One of the most important and underrecognized women in decorative arts history was Susan Frackelton (1848–1932). She was a founder of the field of women’s china painting in the 1870s and 1880s. She was also a catalyst in transforming that pastime into a profession with the evolution of china painting into art pottery in the 1890s. Unlike her more famous peers, Susan Frackelton earned her living and supported her family on the proceeds of her publishing, teaching, and collaborations with like-minded artists.
Susan Frackelton faced many challenges in her personal and professional life. In many ways, she was a trailblazer for the modern, independent woman. Only in recent years have her contributions been recognized. Like other major figures in the decorative arts, including Thomas Chippendale, she is best remembered for a publication, her 1886 Tried by Fire. In the introduction, she states, “If the rough road that I have traveled to success can be made smoother for those who follow, or may hereafter pass me in the race, my little book will have achieved the end which is desired.”
Why Was China Painting a Means for Women’s Liberation?
Many factors fueled the growth of amateur china painting in late-19th-century America. As America became wealthier after the Civil War, women of the middle and upper middle classes gained more leisure time for personal pursuits. China painting became a socially acceptable pastime for women because it allowed them to create decorative objects for the home. Further, the influence of the English Aesthetic movement and later the Arts and Crafts movement advocated that the creation of art should be reflected in the home. By the 1870s and 1880s, wealthy women were freer to leave the confines of the home through organizations that they set up to create and exhibit their work.
What Is China Painting?
Pitcher, 1890–1910, decorated by an amateur china painter. / THF176880
This pitcher is a good example of the work of an amateur china painter. The artist would take a “blank”—a piece of fired, undecorated, white porcelain, in this case a pitcher made by the English firm Haviland—and paint over the glaze. These blanks could be purchased in multiples at specialty stores. One of the most prominent of these was the Detroit-based L.B. King China Store. It was founded in 1849 and closed during the Great Depression, about 1932. According to a 1913 advertisement, the retailer sold hotel china, fine china dinnerware, cut glass, table glassware, lamps, shades, art pottery, china blanks, and artists materials. Elbert Hubbard, founder and proprietor of the Roycrofters, a reformist community of craft workers and artists that formed part of the Arts and Crafts movement, wrote enthusiastically about the products of the L.B King China Store: “The store is not only a store—it is an exposition, a school if you please, where the finest displays of hand and brain in the way of ceramics are shown.” A woman seeking to learn about china painting could literally walk into the L.B. King Store and walk out with paints, blanks, and a manual like Frackelton’s Tried by Fire and start painting her own china.
The pitcher above is part of a large group of serving pieces in our collection. Also in our collections is a full set of china decorated by a young woman and her friends who learned china painting at what is now Michigan State University. They decorated the dinnerware service in preparation for the young woman’s wedding in 1911. According to family history, the young woman purchased the blanks at the L.B. King Store.
How Did China Painting Evolve in the Late 19th Century?
During the 1870s, Cincinnati was the center of American china painting. The movement was led by two wealthy women, Maria Longworth Nichols (1849–1932), who later founded the Rookwood Pottery, and her rival, Mary Louise McLaughlin (1847–1939). Both studied with European male ceramic artists who had made their way to Cincinnati. Both evolved from amateur status into extraordinary artists, who moved from painting over the glaze to learning how to throw and fire their own vessels, create designs, and formulate glazes for their vessels. This all occurred during the late 1870s, following a display of ceramic art at the Women’s Pavilion of the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. Both sought to outdo each other in the formulations of glazes. It is generally believed McLaughlin was the first to learn the technique of underglaze decoration, although Nichols later claimed that she was the first to do so. Nichols’ most important achievement was in creating the Rookwood Pottery in Cincinnati in 1880. It was essentially the first commercial art pottery company in America, and it led the way in the development of new techniques that were widely imitated by other firms. Rookwood and its competitors began to hire women to decorate ceramics, opening a new livelihood for women less well off than Nichols and McLaughlin.
Vase, 1917, decorated by Lenore Asbury at the Rookwood Pottery Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. / THF176918
Tile, 1910–1920, made by the Rookwood Pottery Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. / THF176941
Essentially, through the pastime of china painting, a new industry, art pottery, came into being by 1900. Under the influence of popular magazines like the Ladies’ Home Journal and House Beautiful, Americans eagerly acquired art pottery. In fact, tastemakers like the young architect Frank Lloyd Wright filled his houses with art pottery. He considered it very much part of his total aesthetic. Through the first three decades of the 20th century, art pottery was considered a must in any well-furnished American home. It only fell out of fashion in the 1930s, when the Great Depression drastically altered lifestyles.
How Does Susan Frackelton’s Story Fit into All of This?
Susan Stuart Goodrich Frackelton was a contemporary of both Maria Longworth Nichols and Mary Louise McLaughlin, born in 1848 like Maria Longworth Nichols, and just a year older than Mary Louise McLaughlin. Unlike either of these women, she came from a modest background. Her father was a brick maker in Milwaukee, and she was raised in a middle-class environment. Susan began her artistic career studying painting with the pioneer Wisconsin artist Henry Vianden. In 1869, she married Richard Frackelton and eventually raised three sons and a daughter.
Richard’s business was importing English ceramics and glass and was relatively successful. Within a few years, however, the business began a sharp decline and Susan stepped in to help. She later said that she learned about American taste in ceramics and business while working with her husband. Concurrently, she began to experiment with china painting, applying her experience in painting with Henry Vianden. She was essentially self-taught, unlike her contemporaries in Cincinnati. Through publications, she was aware of what was going on in the field. She was also aware of the innovations of Mary Louise McLaughlin in glazes, and by the late 1870s was experimenting in underglaze painting herself.
Frackelton’s contributions to china painting began in 1877, when she opened Frackelton’s Decorating Works in Milwaukee. She trained young women in the art of china painting. By 1882 she opened a related business called Mrs. Frackelton’s Keramic Studio for Under and Overglaze, where she sold her own work, wares made by her students, commercial china, and glassware, as well as painting supplies. Like Detroit’s L.B. King store, she created a one-stop shop for young women interested in exploring china painting and, later, art pottery.
Frackelton made a national name for herself in 1886 with the publication of Tried by Fire. It differed from other manuals for china painters in that it was written by a teacher for beginning students. Frackelton’s conversational style and advice on not expecting too much too soon appealed to readers and the book became a best seller, reprinted in two revised editions in 1892 and 1895. As a teacher, Frackelton had no equal in the world of art pottery. She advocated that both wealthy and poor women could enjoy the art of china painting: “Beauty is the birthright of the poor as well as the rich, and he lives best who most enjoys it.”
Pitcher, 1890–1910, decorated by an amateur china painter. Note that the botanical decoration on this pitcher is similar to the Tried by Fire color plates. / THF176879
Another major innovation was the development of a patented gas-fired kiln, first offered in the advertising section of Tried by Fire. By 1888 she was granted a second patent for a new and improved version.
Advertising section of Tried by Fire showing Frackelton’s portable gas kiln. / THF627793
By 1890 Frackelton was a well-known figure and was noted for displaying her work in international exhibits. In 1893 she won eight awards for her work in a competition held at Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition. Additionally, she became renowned for her work in a variety of ceramic media, especially for her blue and white salt-glazed stoneware. She also worked to create new and easier-to-use paints for decoration. She went so far as to organize the National League of Mineral Painters in 1892, an organization “aimed to foster a national school of ceramic art and provide a link between china painters throughout the country.”
By the late 1890s, Frackelton’s reputation was secure, as were her finances. In 1897 she divorced Richard Frackelton and moved to Chicago and spent much of her time lecturing and promoting ceramic art. She collaborated with several ceramic artists, including the now famous George Ohr, a unique artist who called himself “the mad potter of Biloxi.” Together, they created several highly unusual pieces, now in the collections of the Wisconsin Historical Society.
In her later years, Frackelton moved away from working in ceramics, preferring to return to painting and working as an illuminator of manuscripts. However, Frackelton’s promotion of the ceramic arts made her one of the most admired female artists in America in the first decade of the 20th century. Susan Frackelton was a remarkable figure in American ceramics, justifiably earning her status as one of the prominent figures in the decorative arts and certainly in broadening the role of women in American society.
Charles Sableis Curator of Decorative Arts at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc for editorial preparation assistance with this post.
Black sculptor Isaac Scott Hathaway (1872–1967) took issue with inadequate recognition of Black achievement. He dedicated his career to creating and marketing affordable plaster busts and other commemorative sculpture, literally putting Black activists, educators, ministers, and dozens of other individuals on a pedestal. These stood in stark contrast to lawn jockeys and other statuary that emphasized caricatures and stereotypes.
Plaster Plaque of George Washington Carver (1864?–1943) Cast by Isaac Scott Hathaway, 1945./ THF152082
Hathaway remembered visiting a Midwestern museum when he was nine years old (around 1881), with his father, Robert Elijah Hathaway (1842–1923). The young Hathaway wondered why museums did not include statues of Black people. His father explained that white people modeled their own, and that if Black Americans wanted to see sculptures of Black Americans, “we will have to grow our own sculptors.”
This museum visit changed Hathaway’s life, as he recalled in a 1939 Federal Writers’ Project interview and in a 1958 article in the Negro History Bulletin. He studied art during the era of the New Negro, a movement of the 1890s to 1910s that emphasized African and Black American contributions to the arts, literature, and culture. He taught school, created sculpture, and distributed his plaster casts through the Afro Art Company, which he launched after he moved to Washington, D.C., in 1907.
Hathaway moved when opportunities to further ceramics education arose. He relocated to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, by 1915 to launch ceramics education at the Branch Normal College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff). He moved his company, renamed the Isaac Hathaway Art Company, to Pine Bluff at the same time. In 1937, he joined the faculty at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama, to introduce a ceramics curriculum there. In 1947, he moved to Montgomery, Alabama, to direct ceramics instruction at Alabama State College (now Alabama State University).
Plaster Cast of George Washington Carver's Hand, 1943./ THF34092
The Henry Ford has two of Hathaway’s plaster casts. Hathaway gave them to Henry Ford in December 1945, explaining that he wanted Ford to have the small plaque (shown at the beginning of this post) and “a cast … made from the hand of the late Dr. George Washington Carver” (shown above). The plaque was one of three types of casts of Carver that Hathaway made. The others included a small bust (around one foot tall) and a heroic bust, visible in this photograph of the artist at work (courtesy of the Tuskegee University Archives).
Carver’s hands attracted a lot of attention, long and strong and well-worn after years of physical labor. Based on Hathaway’s description, it appears that he made the cast of Carver’s hand after Carver died on January 5, 1943. Hathaway instructed students in techniques he used. Photographs show him instructing students in creating molds of their hands at Alabama Polytechnic University (now Auburn University) around 1947.
Hathaway’s plaster casts remind us of the importance of acknowledging Black accomplishments. Others followed his examples.
Benjamin Akines (c1904–?), a bricklayer and brick mason living in Jackson, Mississippi, knew of Henry Ford’s interest in and respect for Carver’s work. Akines gave Ford a bust of the Black scientist in 1941, four years before Hathaway sent his two casts to Ford.
Bust of George Washington Carver, circa 1941. / THF170783
Akines sent the plaster bust and a letter directly to Henry Ford: “Enclosed you will find a token (in the form of a bust) of one of whom I am told you esteem very highly … I trust this will mean a moment of happiness to you.” Akines claimed that he “was divinely inspired to model,” though he worked as a bricklayer. The back of the bust represents the work of a bricklayer, sculpted with a cut stone foundation with a laid brick pier. This brickwork was his signature, as Akines included bricks in other creative works. On November 10, 1931, he received a patent for an ornamental clock case in the form of a brick façade and sides (Patent Des. 85,507).
Bust of George Washington Carver, circa 1941, Cast by Benjamin Akines. / THF170784
Eager to share his efforts, Akines communicated his news to the Chicago Defender, the Black newspaper in the then second-largest U.S. city, Chicago, Illinois. It reported that “Akines, a bricklayer who indulges in sculpturing as a hobby,” gave Ford a plaster cast of Carver, and that Ford’s secretary and Carver himself acknowledged his generosity (“Bricklayer-Sculpturor [sic] is Lauded for Bust of Carver,” July 12, 1941).
It is difficult to know whether others who cast busts of Carver influenced Akines’ approach. For example, German-born Steffen Thomas (1906–1990) sculpted a clay model of Carver during a 1936 visit to Tuskegee. This was the model from which he cast the sculpture recognizing Carver’s 40 years of service to Tuskegee. The gift received media coverage at the time Carver received it in 1937 and appeared prominently during the dedication of the Carver Museum in 1941, given its location on a plinth outside the museum.
George Washington Carver and Austin W. Curtis, Jr., at Tuskegee Institute with Sculpture by Steffen Thomas, circa 1938./ THF213732
These last two examples indicate more recent commemorations of Black historical figures. One represents a respectful but commercial venture, and the other an exceptional recognition.
Commemorative Bust of Rosa Parks (1913–2005), designed by Sarah’s Attic, Inc., 1995. / THF98391
A popular Michigan-based figurine manufacturer, Sarah’s Attic., Inc., released a limited-edition bust of rights activist Rosa Parks in 1995. Cast of synthetic resin and hand-painted, it was one of four “Faces of Courage” in the Black Heritage Collection. The others featured abolitionist Harriet Tubman, a Buffalo Soldier, and a Tuskegee Airman. The Rosa Parks bust was one of 9,898 made and distributed through a commercial contract, with Sarah’s Attic holding the copyright and Rosa Parks holding the license.
Commemorative Bust of Detroit Lions Tight End Charlie Sanders (1946–2015), 2007. / THF165543
This cast metal bust of the Detroit Lions’ legendary tight end Charlie Sanders exists because of his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Hall commissioned Tuck Langland, an artist and retired university educator, to cast Sanders. Langland first created a bust out of clay based on photographs and a visit with Sanders. That clay statue became the model for the cast bronze bust displayed in the Hall of Fame Gallery in Canton, Ohio, and the copy presented to Sanders (and later donated to The Henry Ford).
So many variables exist in the business of commemoration.
When Isaac Scott Hathaway created respectful sculptures of Black Americans, he challenged white exceptionalism. Who decided who received recognition? Hathaway. What criteria informed his decisions? He selected subjects he respected, but as an educator, he selected people with lessons to teach, and as a businessman, he selected subjects that would sell. Disagreements over selections can derail seemingly straightforward acknowledgment.
What form should the recognition take? Hathaway mass-produced inexpensive plaster casts. Others create one-of-a-kind sculpture or mass-produce limited-edition items. Other recognition in the form of a historical marker or a street sign can draw attention to places of significance and the people who lived there.
Recognition of Black accomplishments remains important—in fact, critical—to understanding the human experience.
“The Hathaway Family: A Journey from Slavery to Civil Rights,” a paper compiled by scholars Yvonne Giles, Reinette Jones, Henri Linton, Brian McDade, Quantia "Key" M. Fletcher, and Mark Wilson, based in materials at these institutions: Alabama State University, Montgomery, Alabama; Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama; the Isaac Scott Hathaway Museum, Lexington, Kentucky; the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, Little Rock, Arkansas; Tuskegee University Archives, Tuskegee, Alabama; the University Museum and Cultural Center, University of Arkansas Pine Bluff, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. (n.d.).
“Isaac Scott Hathaway,” a product of the Appalachian Teaching Project, Auburn University, and the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center (2012).
"Isaac Scott Hathaway: Artist and Teacher," Negro History Bulletin, vol. 21, no. 4 (January 1958), pp. 74, 78-81.
Perry, Rhussus L. Federal Writers’ Project Interview of Isaac Hathaway. February 2, 1939. Folder 60, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers' Project papers, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For years, The Henry Ford has been committed to providing unique learning resources and experiences for educators, drawing on lessons from our past to inspire the next generation. At the core of these learning resources is Model i, a unique learning framework which provides an interdisciplinary language and approach for teaching innovation learning based on the Actions of Innovation and Habits of an Innovator.
When Spencer Kiper, a middle school teacher in Bossier City, Louisiana, traveled to Dearborn in 2017 to receive The Henry Ford’s 2017 Teacher Innovator Award, Model i might have been in its infancy, but Kiper was hooked and put it into action in his classroom.
Designed to spark an innovative mindset, The Henry Ford’s Model i framework promotes something even more fundamental: a sense of what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. “Understanding the perspective of others, or the struggles or strifes of groups of people, that is something we don’t spend a great deal of time doing in education,” said Kiper, who was also the 2019 Louisiana State Teacher of the Year. “With Model i, this is the first thing you do. From the get-go, it inspires a very different kind of feel in the classroom.”
Connecting schools to The Henry Ford’s collections, Model i intrigued Kiper during his 2017 visit to The Henry Ford. He’d been looking for ways to fuel design-inspired thinking and problem-solving skills in his middle school STEM students—a framework that could generate fresh, insightful solutions and streamline coursework. At the time, Model i was in its early stages, much of its substance not yet finalized. That didn’t deter Kiper from dropping basic Model i concepts into his classroom.
“One of the biggest hurdles I face as a teacher is overcoming that ‘I can’t do this because I’m not creative’ mentality,” said Kiper, who believes Model i is a roadmap back to creativity that hasn’t been nurtured over time. “By starting with small problems, you allow students to ease their toe back into being creative and see little wins, little successes. And then you introduce them to the big problems. That’s a pretty big dividend.”
Spencer Kiper’s Destination Imagination team constructed a working cardboard arcade to compete against teams from around the world at a recent Destination Imagination global final.
According to Phil Grumm, senior manager of learning services and on-site programs at The Henry Ford, educators like Kiper have become pseudo co-authors of the ever-evolving framework. “When you put Model i into the hands of an expert teacher and superuser like Spencer, he finds his own connections and relevance, and deploys it in creative and innovative ways we never intended nor anticipated.”
For Kiper and his students, Model i was a natural fit with STEM on Screen, a film festival/mini invention convention Kiper had created to bring industry leaders to students to give real-world feedback on their world-enhancing innovations. It also found applications in his Campus 2 Campus Connection with Centenary College of Louisiana, which gave pre-med biology students the opportunity to strengthen empathy skills by mentoring Kiper’s STEM class. “Studying our artifacts and stories shows us that empathy is a critical habit for innovators to practice and develop to not only solve relevant problems but identify them in the first place,” said Grumm.
Kiper likes to praise Model i’s focus on de-stigmatizing failure and explaining why mistakes must be baked into every creative process. Embedding failure into learning also makes teachers better prepared to teach, which is why Kiper, who was recently named instructional technologist for Caddo Parish, Louisiana, readily employs Model i in his teacher education courses. “As an ideological concept, it can be placed in any sort of educational context and see success,” he said. “It’s a fun and engaging way of learning that’s going to stay with you for the long haul.”
In June of 2021, The Henry Ford launched the inHub website to provide educators around the world with access to The Henry Ford's innovation learning resources. Educators can sign up for a free inHub membership to receive unlimited access to all of The Henry Ford's learning resources, in addition to professional development opportunities. Become an inHub member for free today to get started.
Matthew (third from left) and workshop colleagues visit the Roundhouse and hands-on turntable.
In the summer of 2017 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities American History and Culture Workshop, “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” As a history instructor, the workshop had numerous benefits, most importantly, the opportunity to work with an excellent and diverse team of educators. Too often as teachers, we are overwhelmed with lesson planning and so many other tasks, that there is little time in the school year to collaborate with master teachers in our field. This workshop provided me one of the greatest opportunities to work directly with some of the finest teachers I have known in my ten plus years as a public educator.
The opportunity to visit The Henry Ford is like no other workshop experience I know. The Henry Ford helps bring history to life. The training consisted of studying the development of modern technology and its scientific and social impact on American society from as early as colonial settlement through the early 1900s. In our tours of the grounds, we met with numerous museum staff who explained the purpose and effect of each invention, from the Spinning Jenny to the steam engine. The workshop’s guides took their time to discuss how life, from the structure of the family to that of the labor force, changed as a result of these innovations. Our team of teachers were able to go behind the scenes at the museum and actually get a hands-on experience working with a replica of a Model T Ford and viewing the notes and journals of some of America’s top scientists, such as Thomas Edison. At one point we visited the replica of Edison’s lab, viewing and discussing each project and item that shaped the life’s work of that inventor.
Moreover, the time in lecture with the workshop’s guest speakers was of equal benefit. The Henry Ford provided specialized lectures on the history and cultural effects of the American Industrial Revolution led by history professors from multiple universities including Oakland University and the University of Michigan. The speakers were engaging, examining a range of social issues of the past brought on by the rise of technology. This made me think more about how students, and teachers, for that matter, overlook the importance of science in history. As teachers, we often have students examine how one invention led to the rise of another and how this all brought on the move to the cities and the near abandonment of a farming culture, but there is often little mention as to what new ideas sprang up from these changes. With the rise of modernity also came a challenge to older institutions and the growth of modern social movements. The lectures were more like conversations that tapped into a range of questions crossing over a multitude of academic fields. We left each day with a wealth of knowledge.
Photos on view during behind-the-scenes archives tour for workshop, support learning about the changing roles of women in the home and workplace during the Industrial Revolution.
In addition to lectures and hands-on activities, The Henry Ford’s program allowed our group to work in cohorts and develop lesson plan material of our own. One memory that stands out to me was delving into archived materials with my team partner John of California. We were researching the automotive industry during the 1930s and had uncovered individualized letters and published essays by Henry Ford. As I sat there with John, fumbling through cartloads of historical materials I thought to myself, ”Where else could I have the chance to do something like this?” We spent hours going through the personalized history of one of the great names of the 20 century.
The program required that we create a unique lesson plan pertaining to our field. At the conclusion of our training we presented our projects, breaking down the sequencing and pedagogical strategies to our colleagues who later offered their advice and suggestions. As a result, I left the training with a treasure trove of resources and discovered new perspectives that has since benefited my students’ learning and impacted and altered my own philosophy of teaching.
Firestone Farm presenter DJ drilling (planting) buckwheat grain at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village.
The experience of the workshop did not end with my training at The Henry Ford but continues on to today as I continuously fall back on my notes and memories of my past summer experience. I now ask my students to consistently investigate how science connects with all aspects of society and how these innovations represent more than just a demand for consumer products, but of the goals and values of that particular generation for that invention. My students use the digital collections, videos and articles from The Henry Ford and lessons from teachers from my cohort to help relive these great moments in history. The result has been wonderful. I have seen students begin a unit on the Industrial Revolution considering the topic boresome but leave class with a new interest. I am grateful for having been selected for this summer workshop and hope that many teachers from across the nation apply for this program.
The Henry Ford is proud to announce that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded our institution a grant to again host the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop, “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” This workshop is a professional development opportunity for K-12 teachers of various disciplines. Two workshops will be held June 23-28, 2019 and July 14-19, 2019.
Participating teachers will explore the varied ways that Americans experienced social change between the 1760s and the 1920s through lectures and discussions by noted scholars and by visiting select sites at The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, including Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, working farms, historic transportation, and Ford Motor Company’s Rouge industrial complex. In addition, participants will explore archival sources in the Benson Ford Research Center and dedicate time to lesson plan development.
Next year will be the ninth time The Henry Ford has hosted the America’s Industrial Revolution Workshop. This engaging and in-depth learning experience has touched almost 600 teachers in the past 14 years – we estimate almost 900,000 students have been impacted!
We have made some new and exciting changes with the hope to encourage teachers of all disciplines to participate in a discussion surrounding the innovations in industry and culture that happened during this period. These changes will provide a learning experience that encourages teachers to learn from their peers and carry their new understandings back to their classrooms. For instance, we have added a lecture on art history and the Industrial Revolution as well as an optional trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts to see the automotive industry as depicted by Diego Rivera.
This year we have also made changes to the workshop reading list to include some more recent and more diverse pieces of scholarship on the Industrial Revolution. Alongside this change we have divided the reading list into “Must, Should, and Could,” providing an outline of what is expected to be read for the next day as well as additional reading material based on individual interest.
This workshop will be useful in many types of K-12 classrooms. Obviously, if you teach the period of the Industrial Revolution, or eras following it, this background is indispensable for you. Science, technology and engineering teachers will discover concrete, society-changing examples of the concepts they teach. English language arts teachers will experience a taste of the eras that produced literature like “Little House on the Prairie,” “The Jungle,” works from Mark Twain, slave narratives, and Charles Dickens. Art and art history teachers will explore the societal impacts of the Industrial Revolution, be inspired by the beauty of the factory as did Diego Rivera, delve deeper into manufacturing design, and experience art as a primary source.
To learn more about the workshop, and to apply, please visit our website. Applications are due March 1, 2019.
Alex Cavinee is NEH Program Coordinator at The Henry Ford.
The 2017 Teacher Innovator Award winners. From Left to Right: Sean McCarroll, Joseph Boggs, Dawn Burton, Kathy Boisvert, Spencer Kiper, Wanda Small, Jon Paddock, Denise Scribner, Steven Lamb, Lisa Weis.
For three years now, The Henry Ford as had the privilege of honoring a select group of educators who demonstrated the ability to teach their subjects in innovative ways, inspiring their students to think creatively. These educators inspire their students to challenge the rules and take risks, who demonstrate how to be collaborative and empathetic, and teach the value of staying curious and learning from failure.
Now, The Henry Ford and Litton Entertainment are proud to sponsor a fourth year of Teacher Innovator Awards so that another crop of educators can be honored. Just as The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation television show seeks out the stories of forward-looking visionaries and innovators each week, we are looking for teachers who showcase an original and creative approach to teaching, inspire innovation in their students, exhibit resourcefulness, engage students, and are making a positive impact on not only their classroom but their community, colleagues, administrators, school, and/or district.
Twenty teachers in total will receive prizes, with the top 10 grand prize winners receiving a week-long “Innovation Immersion Experience” at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. Winners will be announced in June 2018.
Nominate yourself or a teacher you know by completing the online submission form (click on the “nominate” button). Tell us what innovation means to you and show us and let your students tell us what you have meant to them. Be sure to include supporting materials that show an innovative teaching methodology, curriculum, and/or model in action. All entries must be submitted by theFebruary 28, 2018 deadline.
Please be sure to read our official rules carefully before nominating. For more details about the awards or the television show please go here.
We look forward to learning how teachers across the country are innovating in their classrooms.
Frederick Rubin is Learning and Engagement Team Coordinator at The Henry Ford
Writer demonstrating proper posture and hand-holding position, c. 1800. THF286087
In her recent article, “Cursive: Dead or Alive?” (The Henry Ford Magazine, June-December 2017), author Anne Trubek asserts that, today, cursive writing “is becoming retro-cool, more interesting precisely because its utility has largely passed.”
Indeed, the importance of penmanship—as cursive writing was once called—has radically declined as part of school curricula in recent years. It is no longer required in most states’ Common Core standards—due to increased technology use, the rejection of repetitive drills as teaching tools, and the higher importance placed on reading and math in government-issued tests. However, not everyone agrees that eliminating it from the curriculum is desirable, arguing that mastery of cursive writing helps with hand-eye coordination, long-term memory, problem-solving, and idea generation.
The heated debate about the need for young people to learn cursive writing—or not—raises the question of how we got here. In fact, the story of handwriting in America is one of continual adaptation to technological and social change, and in no small part the influence of two innovators whose names have been largely forgotten today—Platt Rogers Spencer and Austin Norman Palmer.
A trained engrosser transcribed the original 1776 version of this document—the Declaration of Independence—from Thomas Jefferson’s handwritten draft. THF92259
In the 1700s, as more people learned to read and printed materials became more available, reading became a desirable skill. But writing? That was reserved exclusively for the wealthy and for those whose profession required it—like merchants, bookkeepers, legal clerks, and engrossers (those trained to transcribe the final draft of a document in a large, clear hand).
Handwriting in those days was tedious and difficult, including learning how to fashion quills from goose feathers, mix ink, rule lines on paper, and use the ink-filled quill without spotting or smudging the paper.
Writing became a more widely accepted and embraced skill during the early 1800s, as self-trained writing masters traveled around the country offering courses of instruction. In more populated urban areas, they offered private writing courses in what were in essence the first business colleges.
To motivate students, teachers often bestowed awards for good penmanship, like this 1877 example. THF286089
In small towns and villages, writing masters taught the rudiments of handwriting to students in the growing number of common, or public, schools. Learning to write came to be considered as important a skill as reading and arithmetic for schoolchildren (actually, boys) in preparation for their future roles in industrial America.
The word “Penmanship” on the cover of this 1867 Spencerian writing book exemplifies that very writing method. THF286020
One particular writing master, Platt Rogers Spencer, would become so successful that his approach to handwriting almost completely dominated penmanship education during the post-Civil War period. Spencer realized that, to truly influence how most Americans learned to write, he needed to go right to the source. So he brought penmanship lessons directly to teacher-training schools. From there, the popularity of his writing method spread to public and private education at all levels—from business colleges down to primary schools. So pervasive and dominant was his influence that Spencer became known as the “Father of American Handwriting.”
This fancy trade card gives an idea of the level of expertise in penmanship that students of the Toledo Business College would attain. THF225626
Spencer’s unique approach to handwriting reduced the alphabet to a few elemental principles, equating each letter—and parts of each letter—to natural forms like waves, sunbeams, clouds, and leaves. In this way, he could claim that his approach was not just a series of mechanical movements but also a “noble and refining art.” At the same time, his handwriting lessons emphasized order and precision. With students from different walks of life—rural and urban, rich and poor, obedient and unruly, foreign- and American-born—all practicing exactly the same lessons, Spencer could claim that learning his handwriting method would mold America’s young people into reliable citizens and obedient future workers.
The Ford Motor Company logo is an example of Spencerian writing, which Henry Ford learned in school. THF104934
Spencerian became the dominant handwriting method in America from the 1860s into the early 1900s. It seemed to fit everything that Americans strived for. That was, until penmanship entrepreneur Austin Norman Palmer came along, claiming that Spencerian handwriting was all wrong for Americans. He argued that Spencerian script was too ornate, too meticulous, too slow, too tiring, even too feminine. What Americans wanted and needed, he argued, was a “plain and rapid” style adapted to “the rush of business,” a style that was masculine and unsentimental.
As shown in this 1920s language composition book, students learning the Palmer method were taught to pride themselves on their penmanship, which was considered a judge of good character. THF247435
Palmer introduced a new approach—one which forced the muscles to move in certain patterns—over and over and over, with the idea that the muscles would imprint the memory of these movements into the brain and become habit. Though the approach was radically different, Palmer’s goal—like Spencer’s—was ultimately about social control. Disciplining the body, he asserted, would also force students to conform to the conventions of society. He came down particularly hard on left-handedness, which he considered deviant, and he insisted that left-handers learn to write with their right hand.
Students of Henry Ford’s Edison Institute school system hard at work practicing their writing skills, 1944. THF126142
The Palmer method began displacing the Spencerian method of handwriting by the 1890s and, by the second decade of the 1900s, millions of Americans had become “Palmerized.” In truth, given the limited resources and lack of teacher training in many communities—as well as negative attitudes by both teachers and students toward the rigorous requirements of this method—the Palmer method was not strictly enforced in most school systems and it was often combined with other handwriting methods.
This type of school desk, made in the 1940s but used well into the 1960s, contains a hole for an ink bottle to be used with a dip pen. THF158363
Paralleling new studies in child psychology and new approaches to childhood education, two trends emerged in the 1900s. First was the realization that young children simply did not possess the motor skills to learn cursive writing, leading to a new emphasis on learning printing first and cursive writing later. Second, a new attitude emerged that writing could be more than a mechanical movement—it could become an outlet for self-expression.
The brightly colored images on this early 1970s school box, used for holding writing implements and other school supplies, were inspired by those of Peter Max and other psychedelic designers of the era. THF169170
Coinciding with these trends were new forms of technology—from typewriters to word processors to personal computers—that, by the end of the century, displaced the need for handwriting in our society. Meanwhile, ink-dipped steel pens of the early 1900s were replaced by ballpoint and rollerball pens later in the century, and by Smartphones and iPads today.
As Americans, we tend to romanticize and revive that which we have lost. So it comes as no surprise that, as computers have replaced the necessity of handwriting, so handwriting has become an art, a craft, the province of “makers”—equated with creativity and self-expression.
We’ll see what lies in store for handwriting into the future.
For further reading on this topic, take a look at, Handwriting in America: A Cultural History (by Tamara Plakins Thornton, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996).
Donna Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford and handwrote this blogpost—believing that putting pen to paper helps her think more creatively than typing on a computer keyboard.
In the summer of 2014 I had the opportunity to study at The Henry Ford through the National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.” I had applied for two NEH programs that spring, one in Boston and the other at The Henry Ford. As a history major, I was very excited about the idea of Boston. Being a Michigan resident, I had been to The Henry Ford numerous times in my life and I "knew" what was there. I knew I would be happy with either location and a week of studying history is pretty much what history nerds want, right?!
I was honored to get the letter inviting me to The Henry Ford even if I was a little disappointed that I would not spend three weeks in Boston. I was somewhat concerned because as I left school in June, I knew that my schedule for the next school year was World History and AP European History - not necessarily classes that I thought related to Michigan or the collection at The Henry Ford.
Was I in for a surprise. My week at The Henry Ford blew me away. Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, Greenfield Village, and the Ford Rouge Factory offered social, economic, and political history for the US and technological artifacts that directly related to the worldwide Industrial Revolution. I came back to school with images of technologies that had propelled the world into the modern era and new ideas of how to share those images with my students. On top of the sheer number artifacts, the staff of The Henry Ford also put together a collection of speakers with expertise beyond any I had studied before.
Learning about steam engines with Chief Curator Marc Greuther.
That first year back I did not have the time or the resources to take my students to The Henry Ford, but I showed clips and shared my experiences. In 2015 I was given the opportunity to teach AP US History and my main goal was to get my students to the museum and village. With the help of a grant from The Henry Ford my first class of 40 AP US History students got to spend a day at both locations. We spent the morning in the rain wandering around the village and seeing the buildings and pieces of history. The afternoon was warmer and drier and we were able to wander through the museum and see artifacts that we were reading about in the classroom.
In 2016 the interior design teacher and I brought two buses of students to see the village and we wandered through time, seeing the changes in American life from the colonies to the 1920s. We rode the train and watched as The Henry Ford’s artisans showed how everyday items were created with past technology. With both visits, my time at the workshop came flooding back. I could share with my students details about the buildings, artifacts, and museum history that are not available to just any visitor. I felt like I took them on a journey through time. Both years I was able to use the trip to make connections that would have been more abstract without those personal experiences. More than half of my students had never been to the village or museum before this trip.
NEH teachers learn by doing on the Weiser Railroad in Greenfield Village.
I asked some students to share their experiences and here is what a few had to say.
"Throughout the field trip I enjoyed seeing many historical buildings that contributed to American History. I didn't think I would ever get a chance to see the laboratory where the Wright Brothers did their famous work. I had seen pictures of their workshop when I created a project on them in middle school. Overall a great experience."
"It was fascinating to actually see the stuff that we read about in textbooks. The Thomas Edison exhibit was interesting because there was indoor electricity but still had an outhouse. "
"I mean personally for me, it was just amazing to see things and stuff that didn't even originate in Michigan. The fact everything there is kept as detailed and accurate as possible amazes me. The old style homes were crazy and definitely reflected the location they belong in in their architectural design. So simply put it was a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot about not just our state, but others and see the different technological advancements."
My last day at The Henry Ford my family came down to visit and we spent an extra day taking our daughters around the museum and village. Needless to say, we left with a family membership and have been back at least three times a year since. We have shared the experience with friends and family and watched the World Series of Historic Baseball and ice skated during the Christmas festivities. We saw Gridiron Glory and grooved to the Beatles in The Magical History Tour. It is our day trip destination of choice.
Leah Markey is a Social Studies Teacher at Heritage High School in Saginaw. Mich.
The Henry Ford proudly announces that the National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded our institution a grant to again offer the Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshop “America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford” for K-12 teachers. The workshops will be held July 9-14, 2017 and July 16-21, 2017.
Participating teachers will explore the varied ways that Americans experienced social change between 1760s and the 1920s through lecture/discussions by noted scholars and by visiting select sites at The Henry Ford, Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum, including Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory, working farms, historic transportation, and Ford Motor Company’s Rouge industrial complex. In addition, participants will explore archival sources in the Benson Ford Research Center and dedicate time to lesson plan development with colleagues.
“Learning by doing” - Scything, pre-Industrial Revolution.
Next year will be the eighth time The Henry Ford has hosted the America’s Industrial Revolution workshop. This deep learning experience has touched almost 500 teachers in the past 11 years – we estimate over 700,000 students have been impacted!
This year we are making some exciting tweaks that will make the week even more fruitful and more fun.
The biggest change is that we are adding a bus tour of Industrial Revolution-era Detroit. Participating teachers come from all over the country (and sometimes abroad, if they are teaching in military schools, etc.) and they just can’t miss our neighboring city which had such a pivotal role in America’s industrial story. On Monday evening, the second night of the workshop, teachers will take a tour bus to explore a few key areas of Detroit. We will visit Hamtramck, Highland Park, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and Corktown, allowing us to move through Detroit history from the era of a frontier surrounded by farmland, to a growing city fueled by industrial production that came to spawn the king of American manufacturing, the automobile industry.
Henry Ford designed the Model T in a secret room at the Piquette Plant.
We have found that participating teachers are often history junkies (just like ourselves) hungry for more learning. So, during our daily site visits to Greenfield Village we will use our knowledgeable master presenters as guides. We invite you to try to stump them with the great questions we know teachers always have.
Speaking of historical learning, we have updated the workshop reading list to include some more recent and more diverse pieces of scholarship on the Industrial Revolution. I particularly enjoyed Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend by Scott Reynolds Nelson. It tells about a historian’s journey to uncover the real story behind the folk song about John Henry, investigating if there was truly an African-American convict working on the railroad who died in a contest with a steam drill.
We want to encourage more useful lesson-planning time, too. So we have allocated time during the day to spend with colleagues of similar grades/subjects to plan lessons and to visit the Benson Ford Research Center to make use of our primary sources. We will also encourage teachers to use those primary sources virtually through our online collections. Teachers will see our rich collections in use by the scholars each morning, too.
Read and touch primary sources at the Benson Ford Research Center.
And it’s not just for social studies teachers. The workshop will be useful in many types of K-12 classrooms. Obviously if you teach the period of the Industrial Revolution, or eras following it, this background is indispensable for you. Science, technology and engineering teachers will discover concrete, society-changing examples of the concepts they teach. English Language Arts teachers will experience a taste of the eras that produced literature like Little House on the Prairie, The Jungle, Mark Twain, slave narratives, and (from across the pond) Dickens’ many works. Art teachers may find themselves inspired by the beauty of the machinery, as did Diego Rivera and Charles Sheeler at the Ford Rouge Factory.
Rivera was inspired by the Ford Rouge Factory for his “Detroit Industry” fresco cycle at the Detroit Institute of Arts. THF116582
Sounds fun, doesn’t it? To learn more about the workshop, and to apply, please visit thehenryford.org/neh. Applications are due March 1.
Christian W. Overland is Executive Vice President of The Henry Ford and Project Director, America’s Industrial Revolution at The Henry Ford.
Catherine Tuczek is Curator of School and Public Learning at The Henry Ford.