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Lesson Plan: Julia B. Nelson

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a person in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Julia B. Nelson:
Julia B. Nelson was a Red Wing resident and activist for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WTCU), an organization that sought to stop the drinking of alcohol. Nelson also worked for the woman's suffrage movement, trying to gain women the right to vote, and she helped with efforts to educate freedmen, or former slaves. Her work took her all over the country, and she was known nationwide for her speeches and her work as editor of the Minnesota White Ribbon, a WCTU newspaper.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Red Wing.
  4. Click on Julia B. Nelson.
  5. Read the introductory material on Nelson and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Nelson. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See In This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the Julia B. Nelson section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.

Nelson was a Red Wing resident and activist for womenÕs suffrage. She worked in the South as a teacher of freed slaves after the Civil War, and delivered speeches about suffrage, education, and other issues.

News 1

Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a handbill advertising a speech given by Nelson.

    2.1) Nelson was widowed by the time she started giving speeches about equal suffrage. Why do you think this handbill still refers to her as "Mrs."?

    Possible Answer:During Nelson's life and today, it is common for married women to be referred to as "Mrs." even if their husband has died many years earlier. Often women are referred to as "Mrs." followed by their husband's full name. After the husband has died, the woman is often referred to by "Mrs." followed by her own first name and married last name.

    2.2) What does this handbill tell us about Nelson?

    Possible Answer:This handbill provides us with the information that Nelson was married at one time and that she spoke on issues of equal suffrage, or the right of women to vote alongside men.

    2.3) What information does this handbill not provide about her speech?

    Possible Answer:The handbill does not tell us where in Red Wing the speech would be given or at what time. It also does not give us an indication of how often Nelson delivered these speeches.

    2.4) Why do you think the handbill does not name the date of her speech?

    Possible Answer:It is possible that the handbills were all intended to be posted on the day of the speech and no earlier. It is also possible that Nelson did a number of these speeches in Red Wing and found it easier and less expensive to have a larger number of the handbills printed without specific dates, times, or locations.

News 2
Click on the News 2 button to open the primary source.
This handbill was written by Nelson to express her views on the issue of municipal suffrage.

    3.1) Studying a source like this can often give us a great deal of information about the attitudes in time period in which it was written. From this document, what arguments do you think were made against giving women the right to vote in city elections?

    Possible Answer:Nelson's points suggest that many people thought women should not be given the vote because they could not serve in the military, that some were concerned about men and women meeting at the polling place, and that not all women were interested in getting the vote.

    3.2) Why would Nelson mention that the qualifications for voting for school board were no different than the qualifications for voting in municipal elections?

    Possible Answer:She was making the argument that since women at that time were allowed to vote in elections for school board members, women should also be able to vote in city elections. The requirements and type of issues being decided were similar.

    3.3) There is no date on this handbill, but what clues does it give about when it was printed?

    Possible Answer:Nelson mentions that women had been given the right to vote in the State Constitution, so the handbill was printed after that event. We could also find out when Kansas, Illinois, Nebraska and Wyoming were considering the legislation she mentioned and use those dates to suggest a general time period in which this could have been written.

    3.4) What does Nelson's comment in her third point about military service say about her?

    Possible Answer:Her comment that war is not declared over city issues such as the location of public buildings suggests that she is making fun of the argument that women should not vote in elections because they cannot serve in the military. It shows that she has a sense of humor about the issue and is willing to make fun of her opponents' position.

News 3
Click on the News 3 button to open the primary source.
Julia Nelson was the editor of this newspaper for the temperance movement.

    4.1) The text that appears in the left-hand column is common in newspapers and is used to identify the editors, location, and subscription information about the paper. What information is provided in this section that tells us about the paper?

    Possible Answer:This section tells us how often the paper is published, who publishes it, and how much a subscription will cost. It also gives the addresses where writers could send articles and subscribers could send their subscription money.

    4.2) Why might authors of articles for this newspaper be interested in having their name withheld?

    Possible Answer:It's possible that some authors might not want to draw attention to themselves, or they may write something controversial that would cause some people in their communities to criticize them.

    4.3) Where might we go to find other information about this newspaper and its publication?

    Possible Answer:Other editions of the paper might tell us more about its work and the issues it supported. We might also be able to find other newspapers or books that mention the work of the newspaper. Records of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of Minnesota might also provide us with some more information about the number of people who read the newspaper or the number of issues that were published.

    4.4) The pledge at the bottom of this column gives us a better idea of what the newspaper's purpose was at the time. What goals does this pledge state?

    Possible Answer:Those who took this pledge promised to avoid drinking alcohol and work to discourage others from using and selling alcoholic beverages.

News 4
Click on the News 4 button to open the primary source.
This article was written in the local news section of the newspaper.

    5.1) Where has Nelson returned from when this article was written?

    Possible Answer: She has just completed a trip to Europe, but the article does not tell us why she was there.

    5.2) What relationship has Nelson had with the newspaper up to this point?

    Possible Answer:The article suggests that many of Nelson's letters had been printed by the paper as news articles in the past.

    5.3) This article was published fewer than 10 years after the end of the Civil War. What effort related to the Civil War was Nelson involved in?

    Possible Answer:The education of the freedmen--slaves who had been freed at the end of the war--was still continuing and Nelson was one of the teachers working toward this goal.

    5.4) Why is Nelson back in Red Wing instead of working in the South at this time?

    Possible Answer:Yellow fever was apparently widespread in the South at that time and Nelson wanted to wait until the epidemic was under control before returning to the South and her work with the freedmen. She usually spent her summers in Red Wing visting her mother, but yellow fever in the South might have lengthened her stay that year.

News 5
Click on the News 5 button to open the primary source.
Nelson wrote this biography about one of her good friends.

    6.1) Why do you think Nelson might have used "J. B.N." when putting her name on the book instead of just writing her name out completely?

    Possible Answer:It is possible that some publishers would have less interest in printing a book written by a woman, or perhaps Nelson didn't want people to recognize her as a friend of the book's subject because they might think she was biased in her writing.

    6.2) What can the title of the book tell you about Nelson's feelings for her subject?

    Possible Answer:The title shows us that Nelson had a great deal of respect for Richards. From the title, we can expect to read a book that emphasizes the positive things that the subject did during his life, with little criticism.

    6.3) What does the opening paragraph of this book tell you about the author's purpose in writing the book?

    Possible Answer: She states that her goal in writing this book is to correctly describe Richards' life and to inspire those who read the book by his telling his life story.

    6.4) As a source, what might make this book a less reliable source about William Richards than a book written by someone who didn't know him as well?

    Possible Answer:While Nelson probably had more knowledge of Richards' life than another author might have, she also was a good friend to him and her account of his life is probably biased in his favor. She might be less likely to mention mistakes made by Richards or negative responses he might have received in his work than an author who did not know him.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. Nelson argued for municipal suffrage for women in her "Points on Municipal Suffrage" flyer. Often the arguments in favor of something tell us a great deal about the arguments against something. What can Nelson's arguments for suffrage teach us about the arguments used against women's suffrage? How can that information help us as historians to focus our research about a controversial issue?

  2. One of the articles about Nelson appeared in the "Local News" section of the newspaper. This section was designed to have short descriptions of local events or activities by people in the community. What might we be able to learn about a community from reading one of these sections of the newspaper? How do you think information may have been gathered for these articles? How reliable does that make the section as research tool and why?

  3. When high school seniors have their photographs taken today, it is often with items that have some significance in their lives at the time: a special pet, sports jersey, or musical instrument. Julia Nelson's photograph on this site shows her with a newspaper and a white ribbon on her lapel. From what you know about Nelson, what other items do you think could have been included in the photograph to tell us more about her interests and her priorities? As a researcher, how is our research made easier when photographs contain items of significance to the person photographed? How can we tell that an item is important to the person and not just a prop used by the photographer?

  4. We know that Julia Nelson did a great deal of work for certain causes because we have references to her speeches and her writings about those causes. What information might we be able to find about someone else's civic work if we are researching them? How could those items help us find more information about the person's life?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes Julia B. Nelson
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Julia B. Nelson in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Nelson does not give us a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
Social Issues in History
Community Activism

Theme One:
Social Issues in History

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe, identify and evaluate social issues in their community and state

Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • What civil rights issues can you list, either past or present? What do you think the status of each of these issues currently is? How effective have efforts been at making these situations better?

  • What role do you think the government plays in resolving these issues? What role does the individual play? How can differences of opinion about an issue be resolved peacefully?

Optional Activities:

  • Ask students to research an important social issue in your nation's history. What efforts were made toward resolving the problem? What were the arguments on each side of the issue? How has the issue been solved or not solved today? Ask students to prepare an oral report describing their findings.

  • Have students debate the issues in a current social problem (e.g., a labor dispute or a civil rights issue). Ask students to study the issue from the opposite viewpoint of what they actually believe.

  • Gather a series of editorial cartoons for students to study the opinions involved in a certain topic (there are often books of these in your local library). Explain how cartoons like this show us what people at a certain time may have been thinking or feeling about an issue. What role could these items have played in convincing people to choose a side in the argument? How are these kinds of items used in disputes today? Ask students to create their own editorial cartoon about a current issue and share it with the class.

  • Have students research someone who worked for change on a public issue. What methods did they use? What long-term impact did their work have?

Theme Two:
Community Activism

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe and evaluate the impact that community action has had in your area.

Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss the following questions in small groups or as a class.

  • What community events in the past few years have created discord in your area?

  • How were these issues resolved?

  • What methods were used to discuss the issues or to convince community members of each argument?

Optional Activities:

  • Describe events that happen in your community that are designed to help others in need. What resources can you contribute to these efforts?

  • Sponsor a class food or clothing drive for the local shelter.

  • Have students research a community project (in your area or elsewhere; these are often in the newspaper) that is helping to improve a community. Evaluate whether that kind of project could be done in your community. Are there other things your community might need more? What resources would need to be gathered for such a project to work?

  • Have students make a list of things that they can do to make their community or school a better place. These could be small things like smiling at people in the school hallway and saying hello, or larger efforts like volunteering at a soup kitchen or entertaining at a local nursing home. Post this list in the room and give students copies for their own reference. Encourage students to do at least one of these items each week.

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