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Women’s history comes alive

AMANDA BUTLER, Sierra Sun

As Nan Barnett walked into the classroom, the squirms and voices of 40 second grade children subsided.

How do you capture the attention of 40 second graders? Barnett introduces them to a historical figure who has been dead for more than 60 years: Beatrix Potter.

Barnett is just one of six American Association of University Women (AAUW) members who visited Truckee Elementary School on Tuesday, March 13. In commemoration of Women in History Month, AAUW members presented a program of monologues delivered in character to elementary and middle schools throughout Truckee.

Armed with an assortment of props, a full costume and an astonishing amount of information, Nan Barnett delivered a 10-minute monologue detailing the life of Beatrix Potter.

“Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” begins Barnett. She quickly introduces herself as Beatrix Potter, the famous author and illustrator of “The Tale Of Peter Rabbit” and several other popular children’s books. After describing her life and the inspiration for her books, Barnett ended the lesson by fielding questions from curious students.

“Do you illustrate all of your books? What is your father’s name? Which story is your favorite?”

Barnett has to be prepared for anything.

“The first time I played Potter, I realized that these children were really going to ask a lot of questions,” said Barnett. “I knew I would have to research her well.”

Barnett’s knowledge about Potter is impressive. Her interest grew after a trip she and her husband took to England where they had the chance to visit Hilltop, Potter’s home.

“I want them to develop a love for Beatrix Potter’s books,” said Barnett. “I think it’s a great part of literature that she has contributed.”

The Women in History program includes performances of other famous women like Annie Oakley and Harriet Tubman. The bill also highlights the work of some lesser known women like Lise Meitner, Margaret Mead and Gertrude Lowthian Bell.

Meitner, played by Lin Zucconi, is known for her discovery of nuclear fission. Mead, portrayed by Janna Caughron, is recognized for her studies of primitive societies and her contributions to social anthropology.

Sal Bulkley, the founder of Truckee’s branch of the AAUW, chose to portray Bell, a British archaeologist, writer and government official. Her performance almost always gets rave reviews from adults and children alike.

“There are many great women in history who have struggled to become great in their field but are rarely recognized,” said program coordinator Maggie Shane. “The idea is to get the kids interested and get them to take it a step further. Maybe they will research these women after class by reading books or getting on the Internet.”

Women in History can be seen playing at the Truckee Library, Friday, March 16 at 7 p.m. There is no charge and the show is open to the public.

Shane thinks the program helps foster AAUW’s goal: gender equity.

“We want girls to get the same education and opportunities as boys throughout school and on into the workplace,” said Shane.

The AAUW raises money to fund different educational and gender awareness programs.

“We fund scholarships for high school females, we send several seventh grade girls to a camp called Tech Trek, and we fund legal advocacy programs that address issues like sexual harassment,” said Shane. “We also support the Eleanor Roosevelt educational foundation that gives grants to teachers.”

The AAUW is a national philanthropic organization of women with four year accredited college degrees. They meet monthly at the Northwoods Clubhouse.

For more information on the organization, attend this month’s meeting. It will be held on Tuesday, March 20 at 6:30 p.m.


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