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North Haven High School grad and Wheaton College history major Marisa Hexter recently gave a presentation on five forgotten women from North Haven’s history at the North Haven Memorial Library. (Photo by Nathan Hughart/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Marisa Hexter is bringing the unexpected and unacknowledged women out of North Haven’s historical archives and back into the public eye. Exploring lost histories is a part of her studies as a history major.
Marisa’s formal background in sharing history started when she was a sophomore in high school working with the North Haven Historical Society as part of a community service project, but her interest in history started much sooner.
Both her parents, Chuck and Carol Ann, encouraged her historical outlook. The family would regularly visit museums from New Haven to Vermont, where her brother went to school.
“When I was young,” Marisa said. “My dad would bring home history library books…It was always a family affair.”
Marisa says she wanted to find something she was interested in to help the community for her graduation requirement, so she put together two exhibits at the historical society: one on Leatherman, a traveler who passed through North Haven between 1857 and 1859, and another on Christmas through the ages.
Now a senior at Wheaton College, she’s learning more about presenting history to the public.
“Public history is bringing [the] history of that town or small community to the public to make sure they know who they are and where they come from,” Marisa says.
Marisa views history instruction as community service. She wants to bring history lessons out of the classroom and deliver it to the community where it belongs.
“I’m able to show people at Wheaton that there is more to history than being a teacher in a school,” she says. “I think history is always going to be about teaching...whether you’re teaching yourself or the public.”
Public history is important to Marisa. Not only does the past provides lessons for the future, she says, but it can help to unite a community behind an identity.
“Whether you’ve been living in that town for a year or your family has been here since its creation, it’s important to really know where you live and how it’s developed,” she says.
Marisa works with the databases in the archives at Wheaton college in a more traditional role.
“Working in the archives now, I love it, but I feel like I am sometimes too sectioned off from the public to know what they want,” she says.
She’s taken on her North Haven project on her own. Based on her familiarity with the historical society’s archives, Marisa put together a presentation about women in North Haven’s history who have been passed over by history. She presented it at school in Massachusetts and again at the North Haven Memorial Library on Jan. 9.
“What I like doing with my presentation is I’m speaking to the public. It’s not writing about history but it’s talking to them about history and it’s more of a conversation not a lecture,” she says. “It’s including them in the conversation.”
In part, her investigation into North Haven women was inspired by a quote from Myra Pollack Sadker: “Each time a girl opens a book and finds a womanless history, she learns she is worth less.”
Marisa’s goal is to bring five North Haven women out of the past. They were musicians, ran brickyards, operated stores, tailored men’s clothing, and lived anywhere from the 1700s to the early 20th century.
“I go through their biographies and their lives and what they did for the town,” Marisa says.
Her favorite subject is Eva Louise Bradley, a music teacher, musician, and composer from the early 1900s who wrote the World War I-era song “Fight for our Flag,” which is recorded in the Library of Congress.
“Her most important thing that she’s known for is she taught a deaf girl how to play the piano,” Marisa says. “[Bradley] invented her own ways of teaching her how to hear music without being able to hear.”
Neither Bradley nor the deaf girl, Iona Lucas, were ever widely known, though it’s believed they may have been this may have been the first instance of a deaf student learning to play.
“The extraordinary and the ordinary are both important. It’s not just wars and government,” Marisa says. “Local people make an impact on their community and that’s just as important in my eyes.”
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