The backstory: My 7th graders are working with historical documents from the Louisiana Purchase era, including a series of letters President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Senate about the purchase. They are reading and analyzing the documents and trying to understand both how the documents help us to understand the time period we’re studying and its differences with our own time period. The letters are addressed to “Gentlemen of the Senate,” and one of the groups (3 boys and 1 girl, student M) were perplexed…..were there not “Ladies of the Senate” in 1803?
Me: No. Remember, women were not permitted to vote and they would not have been allowed to serve in the Senate had they sought to do so. Women got the right to vote in 1920 (I opted not to explain Jeanette Rankin…..this group was already rather stunned).
M: How many women are in the Senate now?
Me: Well, how about you take a guess? How many Senators are there?
Quick math revealed that there are 100 senators.
M: 50. I think there are 50 women in the Senate.
Me (gently now, because this bright girl has no earthly notion of sexism or discrimination against women because of their gender): There are 20 women in the Senate.
At this point, all the air left the room, as M looked at me and considered what she had just been told.
Me (still gentle but feeling like this reality must be understood): That’s the most women who have ever served in the Senate.
M (looks at me intently): Well, that’s a reason to support Hillary Clinton for president, isn’t it?