‘Lighting the Way’: Group sheds light on SouthCoast women

Posted Mar 5, 2018 at 2:19 PM

When it comes to SouthCoast history, you likely know the names Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Paul Cuffe. And while that’s important, a local group hopes you also know the names Marie Equi, Martha Bailey Briggs and Charlotte White.

“I hope when teachers in New Bedford are talking about Frederick Douglass, they’re also talking about Martha Bailey Briggs. That when they’re talking about Rockefeller, they’re also talking about Hetty Green.” — Committee Member Sarah Rose

When it comes to SouthCoast history, you likely know the names Frederick Douglass, Herman Melville and Paul Cuffe.

And while that’s important, a local group hopes you also know the names Marie Equi, Martha Bailey Briggs and Charlotte White.

That’s why they’ve started “Lighting the Way: Historic Women of the South Coast.”

The massive interactive history project is aimed at shedding light on women’s roles in history and “unearthing remarkable stories of women’s personal callings that required grit, tenacity and enduring commitment to their families, community and country,” project designer Christina Bascom said.

Spearheaded by the Whaling Museum, the alliance of organizations and individuals on the Lighting the Way Committee is working together in a prodigious years-long plan to educate SouthCoasters about the strong women who helped shape our history.

Aspects of the project will unfold over the next two years, organizers said.

Staring in July, you’ll be able to download an app to your phone, or grab a map, and embark on a historic walking trail throughout downtown New Bedford, stopping at some 34 landmarks highlighting compelling women’s stories.

Also in July, you’ll also be able to click through Lighting the Way’s website, currently under construction, to learn stories of some 90 educators and philanthropists, abolitionists and crusaders for social justice, investors and confectioners, and more.

The committee also plans to create a companion curriculum for local schools.

And, coming in 2020, on the 100th anniversary of women’s voting rights, they tentatively plan on unveil public art displays.

This project is not just for women, organizers were clear to point out.

“This is very inclusive and open to everybody,” said Bascom. “It’s a boon for historical societies and people who want to do research. We’re very careful to use words like ‘amplify history’ — this is not about creating a women’s history. This is about bringing balance to existing history. These women add so much color and dimension to the history of SouthCoast. It’s quite lopsided without them.”

Sarah Rose, a committee member and project leader, and Whaling Museum vice president of Education and Programs, had similar sentiments:

“We’re looking to bring life to women’s voices, to inspire generations. That’s why part of our mission is creating student curriculum — so students understand the contribution of women as significantly as they understand the contributions of men,” she said.

“I hope when teachers in New Bedford are talking about Frederick Douglass, they’re also talking about Martha Bailey Briggs. When they’re talking about Rockefeller, they’re also talking about Hetty Green,” Rose said.

“We’re really trying to stay away from criticizing history told to date— this isn’t women’s history, we’re just trying to fill in history,” Rose said. “We’re adding stories from the other fifty percent.”

There are some 90 women in total profiled as part of the project. Some lived in the 1700s; others died two years ago. Many came as submissions to the group.

If you’d like to nominate a woman of historical significance — one catch: they must be dead — contact Rose at the Whaling Museum.

Research into the women’s lives is being led by Whaling Museum research fellow Ann O’Leary, along with a team of some 10 researchers who assist her.

They have completed about 50 profiles, O’Leary said.

“All of the women rose up when they experienced or witnessed a need, and they pushed through obstacles and mobilized themselves and others,” said O’Leary, library media specialist at Bishop Stang High School and the Emily Bourne Fellow at the Whaling Museum.

Bourne is a woman of historical significance: Her gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1915 funded construction of the world’s largest ship model, the Lagoda, and the building that houses it at the Whaling Museum, the Bourne Building.

THE ROOTS

Shedding light on women’s role in SouthCoast history was a long-held dream of Bascom’s.

The Standard-Times 2008 Marion Woman of the Year, Bascom has been involved in numerous SouthCoast community projects — from helping to found the Marion Institute, to helping found Our Sisters School in New Bedford, among many other initiatives.

“For a long time, I tried to get someone to write a book about the historic women of SouthCoast,” said Bascom.

She said in late 2016, over lunch with Rose and then Whaling Museum President James Russell, “I said, ‘This is an idea I have kicking around,’ …and this thing started rolling, and we realized we wanted something more interactive.”

The plans for a website, GPS smartphone app, walking trail, and school curriculum grew from there.

Bascom said the interactive walking trail phone app will hopefully leave a lasting impact on young SouthCoasters.

On the app, which will work with a phone’s GPS, you’ll be able to see an interactive map indicating nearby “Lighting the Way” landmarks and points of interest, while providing links to images and biographies of the associated historical figures at each address.

For those who prefer old-school paper, there will be a printed map, as well.

“There’s a quote from an article in TIME I read, ‘If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.’ And to have young girls, and boys, going around and being able to see the history — that will hopefully leave a lasting impact for future generations,” Bascom said.

Rose added, “A cornerstone of this project is using stories of historic women to inspire generations to come.”

To get involved, contact Rose at srose@whalingmuseum.org, 508-997-0046 x118.

Lauren Daley is a freelance writer. Contact her at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her at https://www.facebook.com/daley.writer. She tweets@laurendaley1.

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