Bethia Throop Huntington
Course: U.S. Women's History
Grade Level: 12th grade
Topic: Piecing together the life of Bethia Throop Huntington.
Lesson: A single source may tell only part of a story. Students of history must look at a variety of sources—primary and secondary—to fully understand the past.
Time: 75 minutes
- Selections from Bethia Throop Huntington’s “Commonplace Book,” 1836-40, in Porter Phelps Huntington Papers (Box 20, Folder 5), Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library
- Letter from Dan Huntington to daughter Bethia Throop Huntington, 1850, in Porter Phelps Huntington Papers (Box 15, Folder 4), Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library
- Sketch of Bethia Throop Huntington written by brother Theodore (“T.G.”) Huntington, 1881, in Porter Phelps Huntington Papers (Box 21, Folder 7), Archives and Special Collections, Amherst College Library
- Sarah Evans’ Born For Liberty (1997): Chapter 7, “Women and Modernity: 1890-1920.”
- Recognize the necessity of consulting a variety of primary and secondary sources in order to arrive at an accurate understanding of a subject
- Learn about the experience of a single white woman in early 19th century America
- Compare the life of an individual woman to the larger trends in women’s lives
- Develop skills in analytic and synthetic thinking
Students will be asked to reflect on the reading assigned for class, Sarah Evans’ “The Age of Association: 1820-1845,” and identify the prevailing issues present in women’s lives of that era. Major themes such as the emergence of women’s clubs and reform societies, the rise of the cult of domesticity, the influence of the Second Great Awakening, the growth of industrialism, the entrenchment of slavery in the South, etc. will be listed quickly on the board.
2. Reflection (7-10 minutes):
Students will be asked to respond to the following prompt: “Imagine that you are a middle aged single woman living in New England in the 1840’s. What is your life like?”
Each student will be asked to share one sentence (or idea) from her response with the class. After listening to the variety of responses, the class will replace earlier notes on the board with a one-column list of agreed upon “general characteristics of a single New England woman.”
Throughout this discussion, the teacher will emphasize the importance of applying knowledge of a broader historical context to any assumptions about individual lives.
4. Evaluation of primary sources:
The teacher will then point out the usefulness of also listening to the voices of individuals to better understand the broader context. The teacher will give a brief introduction to the life of Bethia Huntington, mentioning only the dates of her birth and death (1805-1879), her relationships to T.G. (her brother) and Dan Huntington (her father), and her life long residence at Forty Acres as a single woman.
Students will divide into three groups; each will evaluate a different document related to Bethia and from that source develop an answer to the question, “Who is Bethia?” Groups will then present their “findings” to the class, describing their document to their classmates and writing a list of characteristics in a new column on the board.
Ultimately, four columns will appear on the board, each containing a list of characteristics that describe a single woman of the 19th century: one derived from background reading, one from Dan’s letter, one from T.G.’s sketch, and one from Bethia’s journal.
The class will regard the four columns of characteristics on the board and note their similarities and differences. Observing how the story develops as each new piece is added, the class will then determine what new “truths” emerge from the combination of evidence. Lastly, acknowledging that even this diverse assemblage is incomplete, the class will consider what additional information—attainable or not—might further add to the story.
Students will read Kathryn Kish Sklar, “Catherine Beecher: Transforming the Teaching Profession” in Women’s America, which describes the work of the never-married education reformer and her advocacy of women’s participation in the teaching profession.
Students will demonstrate knowledge of material through participation in class discussions and completion of small and large writing assignments.