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Lesson Plan: Eva Valesh

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. Your 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 conducting primary source research. The units within this site are not offered as comprehensive histories of the people or events involved, but as examples of what students might find in their own research efforts.

Who Was Eva Valesh?
Journalist Eva MacDonald Valesh wrote about booming Minneapolis in the late 1800s. Her reporting centered primarily around the labor movement and exposing of poor labor conditions in factories and mills. She wrote under the pseudonym "Eva Gay" for much of her career and became actively involved in the political labor movements of the Alliance Party and its supporters, including connections to Ignatius Donnelly and other Progressive leaders of the time. Valesh was known for her outlandish dress (at one point sporting bright orange hair) and behaviors that did not fit the accepted role of women in her time. She was criticized by some religious leaders for her work outside the home and struggled with the home/work division herself, as correspondence presented in this unit suggests.

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, instruct them to do the following in this order (you may wish to do this with them on 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 St. Anthony.
  4. Click on Eva Valesh.
  5. Read the introductory material on Eva Valesh and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Valesh. This is the first primary source the students will view. 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 a different source to examine.
  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:
What follows is a listing of each source provided on the Eva Valesh section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (These are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

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

Journalist Eva Valesh worked to expose poor working conditions in Minneapolis factories and mills during the late 1800s. She was active in many political and labor movements of her time. Her work earned her both respect and criticism. Factory owners were angered that she exposed the working conditions of their employees, and many people thought she should be at home doing traditional “women’s work.”

News 1
Click on News 1 to open the primary source.
This is an article Valesh wrote as an undercover assignment.

    2.1) What two things in these headlines tell you that this article will not be about the good working conditions of the girls in the factory?

    Possible Answer: Words like "starving" and "illy ventillated" seem to suggest that the article will be about problems of the workers.

    2.2) What was Valesh's reason for writing this article?

    Possible Answer: She was trying to inform people of the difficult working conditions that existed for the women working in this factory.

    2.3) Were the owners of the business aware that they were not treating their workers well?

    Possible Answer: The article says that the factories guarded what was going on inside, using foremen as spies and threatening to fire girls who talked about the conditions, which would suggest to us that the owners knew the working conditions were hazardous.

    2.4) What do you learn about Valesh from reading this article she wrote?

    Possible Answer: She seems to be a resourceful reporter who could get inside the factory and uncover secrets. You might also assume that she is concerned with issues of people not being treated fairly.

News 2
Click on News 2 to open the primary source.
This is a newspaper article in which the writer describes concerns about Valesh.

    3.1) What does the writer mean when he says Valesh over-estimated herself?

    Possible Answer: He means that she has claimed to be able to do more than she really can, either because she was unsure of what she could do or because she was stretching the truth.

    3.2) The writer suggests Valesh should cultivate her womanhood and be more tender and less of a spitfire. What might you learn about the writer from this line?

    Possible Answer: The writer seems to believe that women should not be as assertive as Valesh has been. Either she has gone too far, or the writer and maybe people in general at that time think that woman shouldn't be as politically active as Valesh was.

    3.3) What result do you think this article may have had on Valesh when it was printed?

    Possible Answer: She may have been embarrassed or angered by it. If she is as assertive as the writer suggests, it may have caused her to try even harder, rather than back down. Friends and family may have been affected by the article, too.

    3.4) What do you think the author's reasons for writing this article were?

    Possible Answer: He may have been trying to let people know what he felt Valesh was really like and that she was damaging the Alliance. He might have been trying to persuade her to change her ways. He says they bear her no malice, but his criticism of her is harsh.

Diary 1
Click on Diary 1 to open the primary source.
This is an excerpt from an interview with Valesh.

    4.1) Why would Valesh have to go undercover to get her stories?

    Possible Answer: Industry owners wouldn't talk to her directly because they didn't want her to expose the working conditions in their factories.

    4.2) How did she disguise herself so that mill owners would not recognize her at the factories?

    Possible Answer: She had her hair cut short and wore old clothes. She was able to pass as a young boy.

    4.3) How do you think factory owners felt about Valesh's stories when they were printed in the newspaper? Why do you think the owners would feel this way?

    Possible Answer: They were probably angry that she was publicizing the working conditions. Sometimes factories were forced to make costly changes after stories like this appeared in newspapers and books.

    4.4) Eva Valesh also went to many of the homes of the factory workers and stayed with them to see how they lived. How might this extra research on her part have enhanced the articles she wrote?

    Possible Answer: She had a strong background knowledge about how the workers lived and what they could afford on their factory salaries. She could also find out if the factories caused any health problems for the workers or their families.

Letter 1
Click on Letter 1 to open the primary source.
This is a letter from Valesh to a friend discussing meetings and social activities with other Alliance Party members and leaders.

    5.1) What does she not think she can afford to do with the group she is visiting?

    Possible Answer: She feels she cannot afford to spend her time and money (shekels) on their expensive lifestyle.

    5.2) From what you know about Valesh and the caption in the data table describing this letter, what do you think that Valesh's "growing ambitions" might be?

    Possible Answer: She seems to be getting more and more interested in the Alliance Party and in politics. She is concerned with the effect this might have on her family.

    5.3) What conflict is she having between her life as an activist and her life at home?

    Possible Answer: She misses her husband and would like to be home more often.

    5.4) What does it tell you about Valesh if she is unhappy being away from her husband but chooses to continue in her work?

    Possible Answer: She seems to care about her home and people in her life, but is willing to sacrifice these if she is able to continue to meet people who can help her reach the goals she has set for herself.

Letter 2
Click on Letter 2 to open the primary source.
This is a list of accomplishments Valesh wrote for a friend who was organizing a biography of her.

    6.1) What can this list of events tell us about Valesh's life?

    Possible Answer: The list can tell us what she did, when certain events occurred in her life, and in what order these events happened. The fact that she is writing this herself gives us a good idea about which life events she thinks are most important.

    6.2) What might the receiver of this letter do with this information?

    Possible Answer: The friend who received this list from Valesh wanted to write her biography. He was looking for information from her about what she had done and some basic facts about her life.

    6.3) How might this list be different if Valesh were writing it for someone who wasn't a good friend?

    Possible Answer: She may have written different items on the list or made some of her accomplishments sound more impressive to an outsider.

    6.4)Eva Valesh was known for misstating some facts about her life, such as her birth date. In this letter, she says that her birth date is actually years later than it really is, making her appear younger. Why do you think she would do this?

    Possible Answer: If she could make herself appear younger, it would appear that she had accomplished more in a shorter period of time. It is fairly common for people to be vain about their age and present themselves as being younger than they actually are.

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. Primary sources like these about Eva Valesh can tell us much about a person's life, economic situation, family, work, and activities. If you were to write a biography of Valesh's life, what other information would you need that is not given in these sources? In what other sources do you think you could find that information?

  2. Valesh was a woman who didn't fit into the role that many people of her time expected a woman to play. Which of the sources you viewed might suggest that this was true? What kinds of things do these sources tell us about her own attitude about her role as a woman and what was expected of her?

  3. Primary sources are not always factually reliable. In Valesh's letter to her friend (Letter 2) she lies about her age by incorrectly stating the year of her birth. How does this affect your confidence in what she wrote in the rest of the letter or in her diary? If you can prove that a source is not completely accurate, do you think it is still useful? Why or why not?

  4. There are a number of things to consider when using a diary or reminiscence as a primary source in your research. Why might a diary or reminiscence not be completely accurate? Do you think other people could have remembered an event differently than Valesh did? Could she have a personal opinion about an event that might be different from someone else's? What other sources could help you determine how accurate her description of an event might be?

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes in Eva Valesh
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 Valesh's life. 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 Valesh 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:
1. Societal Roles
2. Muckraking

Theme One:
Societal Roles

The student will be able to :

  1. use information gathered from primary sources to evaluate Valesh's role in her time period and the responses that role generated from others
  2. describe the influence of roles and expectations in their own life
  3. use discussion of roles to prepare and produce a product describing their own roles and the ways in which they fit or don't fit into them
Class Discussion:
Break students into groups and ask them to use the thought questions they completed in the skills section and the information they gathered about Valesh to discuss the following questions about her and her work. You may wish to write these questions on the board or generate a worksheet with these questions to guide their discussion and help them keep notes.

  • What gender roles did Eva challenge?

  • How did people react to her actions?

  • Which sources can offer clues that tell us she did not conform to what people expected of her?

Ask students to generate a list on the board or in groups about what women (or men or teens, or people of a certain age) are sometimes expected to do in contemporary society. Be sure to emphasize that these expectations may not always be accurate or desirable.
Discuss this list by asking the following questions (you can use these as small group discussions also):

  • Are these expectations reasonable?

  • Are they fair?

  • Where do you think they came from?

  • Does everyone fit these expectations?

  • What happens to someone when they don't fit the role?

  • How have these roles changed since your parents and grandparents were growing up?

  • What challenges might you face if you don't meet these expecations?

  • What advantages might there be for not following these roles?

  • How do you make your decisions about whether or not to do what is expected? What role do others (your friends, family, teachers, religion) have in making those choices?

Optional Activities:

  • Ask the students to use the information they just gained from the class discussion to research another historical figure who challenged expectations, whether with positive or negative outcomes. They may present their findings in either a short oral or written report.

  • Ask students to debate a specific issue of gender or age roles with each other. Encourage them to debate the opposite viewpoint from what they actually believe.

  • Have students discuss with their families or friends gender roles and experiences they have had with challenging these roles. Is there someone they know who chose an occupation that was not socially acceptable for their gender? Ask students to write a story about someone who did something unexpected and what happened to them.

  • Encourage students to look in magazines or newspapers for examples of stereotypical and non-stereotypical behavior in ads and articles. Have students bring these in for discussion or make a collage of them and present an oral report about their findings.

  • Invite local citizens to speak to your class about how they have succeeded in roles or occupations traditionally reserved for another gender and what challenges they may have faced.

Theme Two:

The student will be able to:

  1. Use information gathered from primary sources to examine the role of labor movements during Valesh's time and compare them to current events.
  2. Compare the roles of muckrakers to those of the labor managers who were being criticized.
  3. Discuss and evaluate the role of the media in protest movements.
  4. Compare the muckrakers of today with those of yesterday.
Class Discussion:
Ask students to think about current events and what kinds of issues are presented in labor disputes today. Use the following questions to guide their discussion.

  • What issues are labor organizers most often concerned with?

  • How does management respond to these issues? What is the management's viewpoint?

  • How do you think the media affects what side of the story we hear?

  • How does politics sometimes get involved in labor issues?

  • What regulations do we have now that are designed to encourage safe working conditions in industry?

Optional Activities

  • Have students role play a labor negotiation session with labor activists, workers, and plant managers. Discuss important issues and means of achieving an agreement.

  • Ask students to observe news accounts of labor disputes either here or in other countries. Students should follow a story for a few days and report on its developments in oral or written form. Ask them to explain both sides of the story and offer their own suggestions for resolution.

  • Have students find a muckraking article in the current newspaper and compare its style and substance (topic of article, issues that are under discussion, treatment of both sides of the argument) to a muckraking article from the past (you could use the 'Mong Girls Who Toil Article on this site if you wish).

  • Ask students to research a past or present muckraker. What did the muckraker uncover in their research and reporting? What kind of effect did their work have?

  • Have students research a current topic in the style of a muckraker. This can be a national/world events topic or a local issue. Have students give a report on their findings or write a newspaper-style article describing what they found.

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