Two Wisconsin eighth-graders chose Carrie Chapman Catt for their middle school’s History Day project, and after months of local, state and regional competitions, advanced to the National History Day competition in Washington, D.C.
Last January, Allison Cotton, Lexie Higgins and Allison’s mother Linda (Mendenhall) Cotton, a 1983 graduate of Iowa State University, embarked on a field trip to Iowa to learn more about Catt. The trio first visited the Carrie Chapman Childhood Home Museum in Charles City. They then traveled to Ames to tour Iowa State’s campus and to interview faculty and staff during a visit to the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics. Their visit to the Catt Center was facilitated by Sue Cloud, the center's communications specialist.
"I feel honored to have been able to share Catt's amazing life story nationally,” Allison Cotton said. "National History Day provided me with many different experiences, including going to ISU for interviews, talking to women political leaders in Wisconsin and going to the national competition at the University of Maryland.”
During their visit to the center, they interviewed Dianne Bystrom, director, and Jane Cox, professor of music and theatre. Cox wrote and performs The Yellow Rose of Suffrage, a one-woman play about Catt’s life. The girls titled their project “Carrie Chapman Catt: Fighting for the Right for Women to Vote.” They constructed a voting booth and displayed photos and information about Catt’s life. Catt’s role in winning passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women the right to vote was the project’s main focus.
In February, the girls presented the project at their school’s History Day competition and were one of three junior division group exhibits chosen to advance to the regional competition in Stevens Point, Wisc. They also received the top award—the Superintendent's Award—and the Everest Optimist and the Veterans of Foreign Wars group exhibit awards. Linda Cotton reported that the judges were very interested in the research interviews the students had conducted at Iowa State.
At the regional competition in April, Cotton and Higgins were again selected to advance, this time to the Wisconsin State National History Day competition in Madison, Wisc. They also received two awards—the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in History Leadership and the Recognition for Use of University Library References. “Sharing the information from the interviews made the judges’ interview easier,” Allison Cotton said.
"My History Day project has been a life-changing experience, helping me become a better researcher and giving me skills I plan to use later in my lifetime," Higgins said. “Even though there were bumps in the road when working on the project, the experience was a big part of my eighth-grade year. I wish more students could have this experience.”
At the state competition in May, the project was one of two junior division group exhibits chosen to move on to the national competition at the University of Maryland, held June 15-19.
At the National History Day competition, 2,931 students from the United States, Guam, America Samoa, Korea, China and South Asia competed. Although Higgins’ and Cotton’s project did not place in the top three, Linda Cotton reported that the girls had an “amazing experience” and their interview and critique marks were excellent.