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History was my favorite subject in school. One of the contributing factors of my fascination was my inspiring teacher who emanated her passion for history. Gail Beaton is a retired public school teacher and community college instructor who happened to be my middle and high school history teacher. Now retired, Beaton is the author of “Colorado Women: A History.” March is Women’s History Month and the theme this year is weaving the stories of women’s lives, and Beaton’s book does just that in an engaging narrative on the roles of Colorado women from prehistoric to modern times. I had the pleasure of interviewing Beaton about her book and women’s history.
Skinny Mom (SM): You’re a retired teacher. What inspired you to write a book on women’s history in Colorado?
Gail Beaton (GB): Most books center on men in Colorado history or US history so I thought it was important to learn about and then to share with others the story of women’s history in Colorado.
SM: In line with this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, how would you describe women’s contributions to the “woven” fabric of history that is currently mainly told from the male perspective?
GB: Women were often seen as in the background supporting men’s efforts, raising the children, perhaps doing a little bit with education and things like that, but never really seen as standing side by side and doing important things on their own. That is so far from the truth. Women plowed fields, planted crops, set up schools, hospitals and aid societies, fought for civil rights, lobbied elected officials for particular legislation, supported the arts, and led progressive reforms. They were miners, educators, philanthropists, suffragists, elected officials, appointed officials, war workers, religious leaders, business owners, and workers. That’s from the time of the first Native Americans to the Hispanic settlers to anglo pioneers to black, Japanese, and European immigrants to today’s Colorado women.
SM: Why do you think it is important to teach women’s history?
GB: Without women’s history, one only knows half the story. Without women’s history, where are the role models for today’s girls? It’s important — for both genders — to know of the struggles, the challenges and the hard work that earlier people dealt with and to know that they succeeded, sometimes not right away. In fact, oftentimes change was slow, but they didn’t give up. If you want to succeed, you have to persevere. Find your passion and work your hardest at it. That’s what makes life meaningful.
SM: You are also a re-enactor portraying a Rosie the Riveter character. What inspired you to create a character for your history lesson? How does using re-enacting help to convey the importance of women’s contributions in history?
GB: Rosies applied for and worked jobs that people said they couldn’t, said they wouldn’t be capable of handling the skill level or the stress or the work conditions. But they did. And were so dang good at it.
Re-enacting brings a personal, human face and persona to an event, to a time period. The audience can relate to the person’s struggles and successes. It affords the audience a chance to ask questions of the character and of the historian behind the character. It’s a glimpse into the life of a woman who made a difference.
SM: What do you hope is ahead for women in the coming century?
GB: I hope for equality. No more “can’ts” and “shouldn’ts.” For both girls and boys, women and men. That all phases of life are open to anyone, regardless of gender, should they wish to pursue it.
Q: What are you doing next?
GB: I am currently researching Colorado women of World War II. I am interviewing army nurses, WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots), Rosies, etc. in the hopes of sharing their stories with others. So possibly another book.
I am also a research volunteer for the National Museum of World War II Aviation in Colorado Springs. They are preparing for a large expansion so I am researching their current artifacts for them. And learning a lot in the process!
Thank you to Gail Beaton, not only for taking the time to answer my questions, but for her work to remember the women of the past and their often unrecognized contributions to history.