"I was so lonely," the woman recalled, "that I baked sweets and waited for the children to pass my house after school. I had them sit down and eat the cookies. Then I sat down and looked at them."
She had been sent by her family in Greece to marry a Greek man in Carbon County, Utah. A man she had never seen. She spent lonely days, while her husband worked as a railroad gang foreman, wishing there were another Greek woman to talk to.Her poignant remembrance brings to life part of Utah's history that is often overlooked in the state's public school textbooks. Women's history - from the hardships of imported brides to the successes of modern Utah women - has often been an afterthought in Utah's curriculum.
But starting this fall, the State Office of Education is hoping to give Utah students, at the elementary, junior high and high school levels, a new perspective on Utah women, past and present.
"The problem of the omission of women and minorities from our history curriculum and textbooks continues to persist," notes the office in a cover letter accompanying a new "resource file" about women's history. Even when teachers wanted to make their classroom discussions more gender equitable they didn't know where to look to find much information.
The new resource file features Utah women writers, artists, ethnic women and working women, like physician and ground-breaking Utah legislator Martha Hughes Cannon. It also looks at "Utah women and their domestic life," migration and settlement, and women's suffrage. It is aimed at fourth and seventh grades, which traditionally include Utah history.
In addition, the education office has produced a film, "Building on a Legacy: Contemporary Pioneering Women," which will be available to fourth- through 12-graders. Both the film and the resource file are available only on an individual teacher's request. The film is also available to local groups.
Produced by Claudia Sisemore (see accompanying story), the movie features nine Utah women who are pioneers in a modern landscape. Like the pioneer women who preceded them with handcarts, these contemporary Utah women, says Sisemore, are "independent, persevering and courageous. Like their sisters, they had to sidestep tradition." Like their sisters before them, they often have to work both inside and outside the home. And like their sisters, they have often found that freedom means "a separation from old associations."
Sisemore chose women who have pioneered in fields as diverse as medicine and mountain climbing. She features Vernal pediatrician Dr. Susan Reichert; Mt. Everest veteran Heidi Brown; Genevieve Atwood, head of the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey; banker Vee Carlisle; publisher Karen Shepherd; singer Martha Chavez; TV producer Judy Hallet; Dr. Afesa Adams, associate vice president for academic affairs at the University of Utah; and Sherry Christensen of the Office of Education. Two of the women, Benson and Hallet, have moved out of state since the movie was produced, having found more opportunities elsewhere.
The film provides a look at not only how these potential role models have succeeded but what they have had to put up with in the process. It also explores the subtle forces that helped shape them.
"My dad's a feminist," notes Atwood. "He loves strong women."
"My husband was attracted to me because I was independent," says Hallet.
Clearly there is a message here, and it's not that women need to be taken care of.
Karen Shepherd describes her transition from a woman who got a master's degree "primarily to be a smart wife" to a woman who eventually became enraged at commercials in which women were portrayed as obsessed with keeping their houses clean.
According to Nancy Livingston, reading and language arts specialist with the education office, the state is working on a curriculum guide to be used with the film. She is hoping that it will be expanded to include pioneering women without careers.
The movie is available in a 55-minute full-length version and in four 15-minute segments.