Center for Women's History

Women’s history is American history. Bring it into your classroom with our new curriculum!

Women and the American Story: A Curriculum Guide

Women’s history is American history. Too often, though, it is the left-out part, appearing only now and then in familiar profiles and predictable high points. But women, despite legal and cultural barriers, have been actively engaged in every phase of the nation’s history. Some were firebrands, some were intellectuals, and some were ordinary people just going about their lives. Over the last half-century, scholars have brought more and more of their stories into the foreground. The New-York Historical Society’s new Center for Women’s History continues and expands on this essential work. It is the nation’s first permanent public exhibition and educational center dedicated to women’s history.

Women and the American Story is the educators’ companion to the Center for Women’s History, addressing a difficulty that teachers have long encountered in their classrooms: the scarcity of material to bring women’s stories into the mainstream history curriculum. When complete, it will span the full survey of American history, connecting teachers and their students to a trove of resources that can be seamlessly integrated into the U.S. history survey to more accurately represent women’s roles in the nation’s story.

Each of the ten planned units will include an introductory essay; primary images, documents, and artifacts from the New-York Historical Society’s world-renowned collections, as well as other repositories; descriptive text to provide historical context; and life stories—biographical portraits of individuals whose lives cast special light on the topic at hand.

The planned ten units include:

  • Early Encounters, 1492-1734
  • Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1692–1790
  • The New Republic and Early Reformers, 1790–1848
  • The Nation Grows, 1804–1869
  • Sectional Crisis and Civil War, 1832–1865
  • Expansions and Inequalities, 1865–1896
  • Modernizing America, 1889–1920
  • On the World Stage, 1920–1948
  • Growth and Turmoil, 1948–1973
  • The Information Age, 1974-2017

The first unit to appear is Unit 3: The New Republic and Early Reformers, 1790–1848. Launched with the grand opening of the Center for Women’s History in spring 2017, it draws on the inaugural exhibition, titled Saving Washington, on view from the Center’s opening through July 28, 2017. We will launch two new units each year until Women and the American Story is complete. The curriculum will continue to evolve thereafter to incorporate the latest research generated by the Center for Women’s History and exhibitions at the New-York Historical Society.

When women’s stories are included in the classroom, students gain a more comprehensive understanding of our collective history. All students, girls in particular, are inspired to engage more deeply with our nation’s past, reflect more knowledgeably on its present, and feel confident about their role in its future.

The Design of the Curriculum

Each unit in Women and the American Story will include subsections, or “modules,” that focus on important time periods and/or themes within the larger unit. For example, The New Republic and Early Reformers, 1790–1848 includes two modules, the first focused on women as informal yet influential political actors in the early federal period, 1790–1820, and the second on women reformers of the antebellum years.

Each module consists of primary resources that include text, images, and artifacts. In addition, life stories place important themes and developments within the context of individual lives. All of these materials are written for students. Teachers’ materials include background essays and the Classroom Notes, which provide suggested activities and discussion questions.

The units are designed for maximum flexibility in the classroom. They have been assembled to explore each topic in some depth, but materials can be used individually, or combined to address your specific teaching needs. Please feel free to make use of the items in this curriculum in whatever way works best for your classroom.

We're looking for as much feedback as possible from teachers about how this curriculum can best serve their needs. Please fill out this short survey to let us know what you think! 

Creative: Tronvig Group