YWCA Our Voice

Celebrating an anniversary

At the end of June, the YWCA closed the book on the 10th annual Remembering Honor program — our two-week summer reading program focusing on diverse role models not usually covered in school.

And this year, for the first time, I had the pleasure of helping teach a class.

It was the first session of our two-week program and nearly 20 middle-school students from the YMCA summer program made the trek to FireTree Place.

This was their first real day of summer break. The sun was hot and the students were rowdy. Fidget spinners, phones and goofy jokes seemed to be at the forefront of their minds.

And there we stood.

Kacie, the YWCA’s community educator, and I with a slide show and handouts ready to talk about the women’s suffrage movement.

We could tell the students weren’t thrilled. I was surprised by how intimidating it can be to stand in front of a group of children and try to keep them engaged.

Nevertheless, we persisted.

Kacie began by talking about Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell — two of the most prominent African American women in the suffrage movement. Wells, the students learned, founded the first suffrage organization for African American women and spoke and wrote adamantly against lynching, discrimination and sexism.

The students then took turns reading about Terrell, the first president of the National Association of Colored Women, who campaigned relentlessly for suffrage for African American women.

We went on to speak about Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and some of the extreme measures women took for suffrage — like long winter marches, hunger strikes, imprisonment and more.

To put a local spin on it, we used resources and photos from the Lycoming County Women’s History project to share with the students Williamsport’s own tumultuous relationship with suffrage.

In 1915, a group of city women formed an anti-suffrage movement in response to the active suffrage group, which formed at the YWCA in 1913 (and three years later hosted the state’s annual suffrage convention).

I loved sharing this information with the students and loved watching them get excited about history. What was especially heart-warming was how much the students wanted to be involved.

Whenever a volunteer was asked to read, at least 10 hands shot up. When we needed help passing out drinks and snacks, there was a flood of helpers.

Given all that, I was still a bit skeptical the students would engage in the final group activity that day.

Kacie encouraged them each to make protest posters and dress up in vintage style clothing for a photo shoot complete with newsboy caps, floral dresses and suspenders.

But you know what? They loved it! Their posters read “Votes for women now!” and “End segregation!” They took group photos, proud individual portraits, selfies and Snapchats.

At the end of the day, all of the children had full-blown smiles. They were grateful for the books they were given to keep about the women studied that day. They were warm and kind and their goofy jokes were pretty funny.

Thompson is the communications and development manager at the YWCA, 815 W. Fourth St. Her column is published on the first Sunday of each month in the Lifestyle section.

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