Love of History Can Make All the Difference!

I was brought up to believe in the power of the individual. My six year pursuit of documenting the full story of Martha Matilda Harper underscores the importance of dogged determination to uncover what history had buried. Ultimately I learned through oral history and the devoted preservation of Harper documents and artifacts that Martha Matilda Harper, a penniless immigrant, had come to the U.S. and successfully turned her determination, community support, and brilliance into a new business format (retail franchising in 1891!). Her innovative 500 shops opened up opportunities for thousands of other poor women to become economically empowered..

Harper’s hidden story is not an exception. History also buried the role of women who created affordable housing, computer technology, word processors, computer software, WIFI technology, the laser eye operation, a life raft, bullet-proof fiber, caller id, the mechanical dishwasher, the Apgar test for women, the windshield wiper, waterproof diapers, a cabinet-bed preceding the Murphy bed, the first metal fire escape, lumina solar lights, stem cell isolation, the first bicycle designed for women’s anatomy, the reclining shampoo chair, new agricultural irrigation systems, and many more mainstream essentials in our lives.

This absence means the people are wrongly encouraged to believe that men alone are society’s inventors, innovative pioneers when it is factually clear that women, of all backgrounds and color, have been an unrecognized force in our society.

Recently Robert Bantle died and his death caused me to reflect how critical his love of history and community as a Senior Vice President of First National Bank of Rochester was to my discovery of Martha Matilda Harper. It was his agreement to have the bank create the Powers History Gallery, which briefly introduced me to Martha Matilda Harper’s and ultimately led to pursuing her story.

If you love history, please step up and make a difference. We are at a scary crossroads when the teaching of accurate history is being undermined “because it makes us uncomfortable.” As Winston Churchill suggested, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The false demonizing of women, Jews, Asians, Irish, people of color, Native Americans, immigrants, or any group encourages mainstream society to act on a distorted view as Ken Burns and others have so powerfully documented. People in power have lied about their historic actions, including why we went to war, who are enemies are, etc. Here in the U. S. we have broken ever treaty we made with Native Americans because we wanted their lands, enslaved people because we wanted their free service to subsidize our business success, and limited women’s role in our society.

Here are some steps each of us can take. Speak up, demand that history tell the full story and not a fictionalized version that makes those in power feel good. Buy books that expand your knowledge of how and why world events and achievements happened. Document missing history, even if it only local. Talk about what you have learned with adults of various political perspectives, and for sure with youngsters. Get statues erected of women recognizing their heroic leadership. Give your children role models based on history/herstory.

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