A Rich and Complicated History

By Lauren Dain, EWHP Summer 2022 Intern

My name is Lauren Dain. I am a recent graduate of Evanston Township High School (ETHS) and a freshman at Northwestern University. This past summer, I spent a second summer interning at the Evanston History Center (EHC). Along with Meg Houseworth, a senior at ETHS and an EHC intern, we have embarked on a project to bring Evanston history into classrooms. 

Evanston has a rich and complicated history that intersects with the political, social, and economic history of the United States. Evanston has been an epicenter for experimentation, from being a pioneer in public education to women’s rights and leading the Temperance movement. However, like the greater U.S., Evanston must reckon with past injustices and the consequences that are still present today. For instance, even Evanston’s name is tainted by the involvement of its founder and namesake, John Evans, in a massacre of Indigenous people in the 19th century in Colorado. In the 20th century, an exploration of Evanston history shows the effects of housing discrimination (redlining) on economic status and reveals how the stratification of races perpetuated an achievement gap in education. 

Yet even with this current relevance, Evanston’s history is not widely known or examined, especially among young people and in classrooms. We believe that local history can be used to teach national and global history, revealing to students a tangible connection they have while helping them understand and reckon with the reality of how their town came to be. So, we decided to create ways for teachers and students to easily and effectively incorporate local history into any history class. This summer Meg and I began creating three lesson plans that cover a range of topics: Indigenous history, women’s suffrage, and Temperance. We hope that these lessons will not only allow students to find ways to deeply connect and comprehend the history they learn but also understand how influential their city was in U.S history, for better and worse. 

One of the resources and lesson plans we’ve created focuses on understanding the Indigenous history of Evanston through the lessons: Indigenous History and the French Arrival, American Settlement and the Impact of War, John Evans and Indigenous Erasure. Indigenous History is not only an often overlooked topic in both elementary and secondary social studies classes but also in advanced high school history. Both to understand history completely and to acknowledge the land you live on – it is vital to learn about the history of your town’s land and Indigenous peoples. 

In the lesson, Compromise Can Create Conflict: Learning about Frances Willard and her Disagreement with Ida B. Wells, students engage in a lesson entirely focused on female historical figures. Often women’s history is excluded from historical narratives since women did not have as much agency or power as their male counterparts, yet that does not mean women’s history does not exist—you just have to look harder to find it. In Evanston, women’s history is abundant, so much so that there is a women’s history project dedicated to preserving the lives and legacies of women in Evanston. 

The Evanston Women’s History Project also tells the stories of women such as Catharine Waugh McCulloch, who drafted the Illinois Suffrage Bill. The work of women like McCulloch is highlighted in the lesson The Fight for Suffrage in Illinois, where students follow the efforts and progress of the suffrage movement through the lens of fighting for suffrage on the state level in Illinois. 

Our project aims to bring local and often excluded history to the forefront. The lessons we have worked on creating this summer are in their final stages of review and will be published and accessible soon. What we have created is just the beginning, as we can see many other Evanston stories to tell.