CA students intern with the National Park Service
In accordance with the customs of 19th-century America, author Louisa May Alcott referred to her father as “Mr. Alcott” to all but her sisters. At Bronson Alcott’s insistence, the family bathed in cold water, but Louisa May, though she was a willful child, often in trouble, didn’t seem to mind. These are some of the humanizing details that CA student interns working as living-history players with the National Park Service in Concord, Mass., this summer learned while doing research at The Wayside, a 300-year-old house in Concord, Mass., that is part of Minute Man National Historical Park. Once home to the Alcotts, it later housed another literary light, Nathaniel Hawthorne.
When the National Park Service sought interpreters to portray children who had lived in the historic home, they turned to Concord Academy history teacher Kim Frederick, who had earlier collaborated on a curriculum for student volunteers. Recruiting students at Concord Academy was the logical next step.
Mary Louisa Jones ’18 assumed the character of Margaret Lothrop, born at The Wayside in 1884. Her parents had bought the property sight unseen because the Hawthornes had lived there, and they opened up their private home to literary pilgrims. Mary Louisa wrote a tour of the entire house, situating herself in 1904, the year Lothrop’s mother organized a three-day celebration of the centennial of Hawthorne’s birth. Engaging visitors to The Wayside in two time periods at once proved an ingenious way of showing the historical layers at the site, where additions over the years preserved older details beneath.
In trying to embody historical figures and inhabit their attitudes and outlooks, students Mary Louisa, Emma Myers-Raffery ’21, and Annie McGarry (daughter of John McGarry, associate director of admissions and director of financial aid) combined acting with historical work. “They weren’t assuming or making anything up,” Frederick says. “They worked with primary sources and came up with more than words: how they presented and held themselves, how they walked, how they interacted. They helped visitors consider people in the past in all their complexity.”
“Sometimes, living in Concord, we forget that the national park here is a national treasure,” Frederick says. “It’s fundamentally important to the history of our country.”
Thoughts from The Wayside
by Mary Louisa Jones ’18
I had a wonderful time this summer working as a living history player at The Wayside and learning so much about Concord’s history and culture through my research of the house. I found it really interesting to picture myself as one of the Alcott, Hawthorne, or Lothrop children and think about what lives were like in 19th-century households of such intellect and political importance. Social dynamics were also fascinating, especially within the Hawthorne family, where all the children seemed to be fighting to attain the same fame as their father. The National Park Service was an excellent resource for information that is harder to dig out of books, and I had a great time working with them. I am really happy I had this opportunity to expand my knowledge and be part of a great historic site.
Interested in volunteering at The Wayside next summer? Email Kim Frederick.