Our tour season is certainly under way here in the Los Angeles museum. Every year, February through June is the time when most schools decide to come visit us. Something that came to mind recently, as I was doing one of my 4th grade tours, is how much things have really changed for women in the last 150 years, and how truly glad I am to be living in this century!
It came about as I was telling my students the story of Charlie Parkhurst. Charlie was a renowned and skilled stage driver in his day — one of the best. He drove for almost 20 years here in California. He was short, slim, and kind of quiet, perhaps because of his high-pitched voice. When Charlie passed away and they were preparing his body for burial, they realized he had kept a huge secret his whole life.
To what that secret was, there are some very entertaining guesses from creative 4th graders:
Someone always hits the bulls-eye: “He was a girl?”
Her name was Charlotte. Of course, the reaction to this is usually a roomful of laughing kids. So what strikes me is how silly it seems to a child today that a woman should have to live as something she’s not.
And why? So we come upon a “vocab” word: discrimination. Despite the Delia Rawsons and Mary Fieldses of those days, women were not readily hired by stage lines to be drivers. Women did not have the same rights or privileges as men in the 19th century, or before. This is something we adults recognize, but it’s a pretty new idea for these children.
What’s interesting to me is how, as recently as 50 years ago , a 4th grade girl would have seen her world in a very different light than one of my 4th grade girls today, who laughs at the thought of having to dress up as a man in order to do what you want to do in life. In order to be treated the same. In order to vote, as Charlie did in 1868.
And I wonder: Would I have had the courage to be a “Charlie?” Would you have seen a short, slim, quiet museum curator with a secret around 150 years ago?
Well, I’m glad that I — and these 4th grade girls — won’t have to make a decision like that!