Take Five with Cassandra Peltier

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There's still so much to celebrate — and learn — this year; the year of the U.S. Women's Suffrage Centennial.

Cassandra Peltier, executive director of The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, is virtually keeping the museum's mission alive from her home in Williamstown.

"We are working to get an interactive, narrated virtual tour up and running so people can experience our exhibits from home the same way they would in person," Peltier said in an email. "We also have an intern who is nearing completion on a 3D digital model of the upper floors of the house, to give people an idea of what the Birthplace looked like when Susan B. Anthony lived here."

For now, visitors will have to wait until Phase three to go inside the historic home, which will likely offer audio tour tablets in place of docent-guided tours, Peltier said.

"We look forward to opening our doors again, even in a limited capacity, so we can once again share in person the important histories of Susan B. Anthony, Adams, and the US Women's Suffrage Movement."

Peltier answered a few questions about how she is keeping busy, and what we can learn from the U.S. Women's Suffrage Movement that can be applied to current events. She also assured us that even though centennial celebrations have been put on hold due to COVID-19, she still hopes the celebration can happen next year.

1. How are you spending your time sheltering at home?

Of course, the bulk of my time is spent working from home, including creating educational resources and activities for the museum website, recording craft tutorials, managing the museum's social media, giving virtual presentations, and coordinating remote projects for our summer interns.

In my free time, I've been attending Irish Step Dance classes via Zoom, catching up on knitting and crochet projects, and joining in the sourdough fad (I highly recommend sourdough cinnamon raisin bread!).

2. How are you finding ways to keep the memory, message of Susan B. Anthony alive during this time of uncertainty?

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Since our museum's mission is to educate about history related to Susan B. Anthony, we are trying to utilize all of the digital tools at our disposal to keep people of all ages engaged until we can reopen our doors safely.

I've been pleasantly surprised by the growth in our online community over the past few months, and have been trying to provide educational information through our social media channels. Throughout the week, you can find posts on Facebook and Instagram with trivia, quotes, biographical information, and spotlights on items in our museum collection. On Saturdays we have kids' storytimes through Facebook Live. We may take the next couple of weeks to stream live from the museum for kids' "Q&A with SBA" sessions before we jump back into more stories about suffrage-era activists like Ida B. Wells and Sojourner Truth.

Several organizations have asked to reformat our historical talks as virtual presentations, for which we are very grateful because it allows us to continue the conversation of women's history and commemorate the Suffrage Centennial even though we cannot gather in person.

We also have summer interns who plan to create educational videos for our new YouTube channel, help with our social media, and curate digital exhibits. We are excited for all of the wonderful content we will be rolling out over the coming months!

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3. What lessons can we learn from the Women's Suffrage Movement that can be applied today?

The U.S. Women's Suffrage Movement, like all historical movements, can teach infinite lessons about how to approach — or how not to approach — today's issues in our homes, communities and country. Everyone has their own opinion about what the most important lessons are, so I can only tell you what I think we can learn from the movement and apply today.

Susan B. Anthony is known for the phrase: "Organize, Agitate, Educate." This was a motto of the Suffrage Movement, and while the phrase has been interpreted differently by a variety of groups over the decades, at its root it is a simple set of instructions for navigating complicated social and political climates.

We must organize around common causes, raising our many voices as one in a call for positive change. By identifying a common goal, we can work together to create a road map to that destination using the resources available. This is the way the suffragists organized.

We must ask for those who oppose our ideals to open their minds and hearts to new thoughts. If we are the one among many, we must still speak our minds clearly and respectfully and stand by what we believe to be right. That is the agitation Susan called for.

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Education comes in two parts: The education of self and the education of others.

Susan's Quaker faith called for inward revelation of truth, not dogmatic theology; for sincerity and freedom of belief without hypocrisy and narrowness; for broad cultured minds free of selfishness and coldness; for peace and brotherhood instead of preparations for war; and for courage and conviction, not weak submission to incipient evil.

Organizing and Agitating are pointless if we blindly follow someone else's words or fight for something we do not truly understand. We must understand the reason for the goal, and how to achieve it. We must work to understand people who hold different beliefs. We must educate ourselves about laws and politics. We must pay attention to how our actions and words affect others, and find a way to live peacefully alongside those whose ideas differ from our own. If we wish to educate others, we must do so calmly and patiently.

4. What are some of your favorite things in the museum collection that you've found recently?

It's so hard to pick favorites! We've uncovered some great photographs of suffragists as well as mills and mill workers, a few suffrage buttons, a Carrie Nation hatchet pin in a velvet box (which we featured on social media last month), and a log of birth and death dates from the Mott family (related to Lucretia Coffin Mott, an abolitionist and suffragist who worked with Elizabeth Cady Stanton to organize the 1848 Women's Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y.).

We also recently received a donation of a beautiful circa 1905 wedding dress, which we hope to feature next year in an exhibit about women's property and marriage rights during the Suffrage Era.

5. When this is hopefully all over, what is the first thing you're going to do?

Personally, I look forward to a big potluck dinner with my family and visits with out-of-town friends.

As for the museum, we hope next summer it will be safe to host our postponed Centennial events including our "Cruisin' with Susan" community bicycle event, our Herstory Conference, and our Historical Family Farm Day at Ayrhill Farm. We look forward to commemorating the U.S. Women's Suffrage Centennial with the community, gathering in person to learn and share stories and enjoy family activities — even if it is slightly belated.


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