SPCA Student Assistant Assists the National Parks Service

This month our student assistant, Jade Ryerson (senior history major) is taking over our blog to talk about the important internships she has completed over the past year outside of her work in Special Collections and Archives. 

From September 2019 to June 2020, I joined the National Park Service (NPS) Cultural Resources Office of Interpretation and Education (CROIE) as an e-intern in the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) Program [1]. I worked on a project supporting the NPS’s centennial commemoration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 38th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, making it illegal to deny the vote based on sex.

In mid-March, CROIE asked me to join them for the summer as a National Council for Preservation intern, working full-time for ten weeks. Unfortunately, this coincided with the mass outbreak of COVID-19 in the U.S. and we adjusted our plans for remote work. Because of the success of my previous virtual internship, I was grateful and excited to continue with CROIE even if only remotely.

Although it was initially disappointing that I couldn’t join the rest of the team in Washington, D.C., I was still able to get a sense of the workplace environment, including just how much the government loves acronyms. Because of the pandemic, many events were converted into online programming, so I was able to sit in on compelling webinars and panels that I normally couldn’t have. These panels and webinars were about everything from federal resume writing to sharing untold and underrepresented stories in parks. It was also great to continue working with my VSFS supervisors and become better acquainted with other CROIE interns and fellows during morning check-ins and weekly team meetings. 

Screenshot of the NPS article, African American Civil Rights: Detroit
Read Jade’s full article here.

Throughout the summer, I worked on various research and writing-based projects, primarily creating web articles about women’s history and connecting the public with historic sites. In addition to finishing up the VSFS 19th Amendment project, I collaborated with one of my supervisors to revamp some of the Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itineraries [2]. I contributed extensively to the itineraries for Detroit and Chicago, writing about the history of segregation and African American civil rights activism. I also wrote some free-floating “place” and “people” pages highlighting the stories of women of color, including Kentucky suffragists Georgia and Alice Nugent and Congresswoman Patsy Mink.

As the summer drew to a close and we approached the actual centennial of the 19th Amendment, I also wrote articles highlighting where various suffragists spoke, organized meetings, participated in parades, protested, and were even arrested advocating for women’s right to vote. The articles directly relate to suffragists featured in the new 19th Amendment Centennial NPS podcasts. This place-based approach focused entirely on sites under the stewardship of the NPS [3]. I primarily focused on National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) listings, National Historic Landmarks (NHL), and sites documented on the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS).

Screenshot of the NPS article The Places of Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee
Read Jade’s full article here.

Using digital resources available through the Library of Congress, Internet Archive, Hathi Trust, and historical newspaper databases, I spent hours scanning through convention proceedings, squinting at smudged newsprint, and deciphering elaborate handwritten correspondence—sometimes only for the name or address of a building. Yet, all too often the building in question has been demolished. Frustratingly, some structures were still extant, but weren’t listed in the NRHP or HABS databases.

Perhaps what surprised me the most was that even when these sites were recognized as “historically significant,” it was rarely because of any connection to suffrage or women’s history. I often considered myself lucky that the site was listed at all, even if only for architectural significance or affiliation with another major event or figure. It was fascinating to discover the hidden histories of these places, too often obscured by the mainstream narrative for which the sites are remembered and preserved.

Historic preservation fundamentally necessitates that a structure is restored to a specific date or period. Yet, when we stick to only these mainstream historical narratives, how many other stories do we leave out? How often are these “hidden histories” the stories of women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, differently-abled people, and members of the working-class and working-poor? 

By affording me the opportunity to investigate underrepresented figures in our history, this internship reaffirmed my eagerness to continue prioritizing these stories in my studies and throughout my career. Even while working with a different institution, I appreciated that my work harkened back to the commitment to social justice that we share at DePaul and at Special Collections and Archives. Although we can’t all be together on campus this fall, I am grateful for the digital resources we have to support researchers and help them bring untold stories to the public.

To learn more about DePaul Special Collections and Archives, visit our webpage or contact us at archives@depaul.edu

[1] The VSFS program is offered through the Department of State and gives students the opportunity to work remotely with various federal agencies, including the NPS.

[2] NPS travel itineraries highlight sites and stories across the U.S. to encourage people to learn about and visit these places.

[3]  Contrary to the name “National Park Service,” the NPS oversees much more than the sixty-two national parks most people are familiar with, like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. In addition to its natural resources stewardship, the NPS protects and preserves state, local, and national historic sites including monuments, historic landscapes, battlefields, archaeological sites, maritime heritage, heritage areas, historical parks, and tribal lands.

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