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When a Project Turns into Advocacy

May 16, 2019

In the midst of National History Day in Indiana contests and preparations for the national contest, it can be hard to remember that winning isn’t everything. While it is great to earn a medal for their projects, I remind students that the skills they learn through creating a project are the most important part of the process. As a competitive person, I must remind myself of this regularly. But sometimes I get a nice reminder from NHDI students.

Amelia was one of our NHDI students in 2018. She created a website about Dorothy Stratton, the Leader of the SPARs – Women’s Coast Guard Reserves – during WWII. After placing first in the 2018 NHDI State Contest, as well as winning the Women’s History Prize, Amelia traveled to Washington, D.C., to compete at the National contest. Although she did not win awards at Nationals, Amelia returned to her home in Lafayette where the real prize was waiting.

Through her research into Dorothy Stratton, who was Dean of Women at Purdue University prior to leading the SPARs, Amelia was able to meet with Dean Betty Nelson, Stratton’s successor. After sharing scrapbooks, stories and several meetings, Amelia and Betty became fast friends. Betty and the other deans consider Amelia part of their family. As Amelia’s mom says, “History can connect generations and bring people together.” She couldn’t be more right!

An extended family isn’t all that Amelia won. Amelia is a bright young student who has had the opportunity to speak to several groups about her research and Dean Stratton’s legacy, including eight different P.E.O. groups in Lafayette. P.E.O. focuses on celebrating, educating and motivating women to achieve … a fitting place for Amelia to share her hard work!

Amelia’s research has turned into activism. When Purdue unveiled new pieces of their “Giant Leaps Master Plan” to re-imagine the university for their 150th anniversary, Betty and Amelia became worried at the apparent plans to remove a monument to Beverley Stone, former Dean of Students. Student groups fundraised for five years to raise money to erect a monument honoring Stone’s 24 years of service to Purdue.

Amelia wrote to Lafayette’s Journal & Courier in December 2018, urging the university to do the right thing and save the monument. Amelia writes “Dean Stratton … forged a path to make Purdue better for women … Dorothy has become a hero of mine. This tradition of helping and promoting women continued with the next four Purdue deans.”

Beverley Stone and Betty Nelson are just two of the four whose paths were cleared by Stratton. Amelia worries that “generations of future Boilermakers will not know Dean Stone’s impact” if Purdue tears down the monument.

Overhead shot of gateway on Purdue's campus.

The new gateway stands at the corner of State and Grant streets in West Lafayette. The plaque to Dean Stone sits on one of the columns.

Plaque on brick wall.

The plaque recognizes the original monument to Dean Stone and her contributions to Purdue University.

Amelia may not have won a medal at Nationals. But she gained a life-long friend and family through the Deans who knew and were inspired by Stratton. She gained a passion for history, the opportunity to share her passion with others, and the courage to stand up for what she believes is right.

I’d say Amelia won after all.

Find Out More

Read Amelia’s full letter in the Journal & Courier.

Read more about the monument in the Journal & Courier.

Bethany Hrachovec

Bethany Hrachovec is the coordinator of learning and National History Day in Indiana. When she is not out on the road, she likes to work on quilts while singing show tunes to her beagle.

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