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Assuming the role at Saugus High

Student explores the life of Florence Nightingale for school Women in History event

Posted: April 16, 2014 7:09 p.m.
Updated: April 16, 2014 7:09 p.m.

Saugus High School English teacher Jill Spradling portrays inventor Hedy Lamarr at the Women in History re-enactment at Saugus High School on Tuesday. Signal photo by Charlie Kaijo.

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Student Sarah Farnell enjoyed Saugus High School’s Women in History re-enactment a year ago, so this year she decided to get involved and become Florence Nightingale.

The seventh annual event this week at Saugus High was about telling the stories of six inspirational women in U.S. history, who were portrayed by students and teachers.

“I was happy they were finally paying attention to Women’s History Month in school, but I was also upset that people were bored,” Farnell said of last year’s event. “I wanted people to get into it.”

So she bought a dress in the style of Nightingale’s and memorized her lines and gestures in her car where it was quiet.

“Students, especially female students, need to be educated about why they’re able to come to school every day,” she said of her motivations. “Their say is important.”

Farrell’s choice of a role model was responsible for improving unsanitary conditions at a British hospital during the Crimean War, reducing the death count by two-thirds.

The achievement led to a shift in the perception of women in nursing; Nightingale was asked by the British secretary of war to gather a team of nurses to improve conditions in the hospital during the war.

However, it was Nightingale’s early narrative that struck a chord with Farnell.

“She was tough, even though everyone told her ‘no,’ and she didn’t stop right away when her parents said ‘no.’”
Born to a wealthy British family, Nightingale refused marriage to a wealthy man and chose instead to pursue a career in nursing — despite her parents’ view that nursing was a job for the lower social class.

The re-enactments in observance of Women’s History Month have been promoted by the American Association of University Women for 20 years. Saugus High career transition adviser Louise Willard brought the program to Saugus when her son entered high school seven years ago. But she has been involved in the re-enactments for 14 years.

When her son was in fourth grade, his school’s PTA president asked Willard to help with Red Ribbon Week. But instead, she wanted to bring the re-enactments to the grade school level and worked to expand it as her son’s education progressed.

One of the re-enactors, she portrayed Sesame Street creator Joan Ganz Cooney during the high school’s Women’s History Month event Wednesday.

“Everyone knows Sesame Street. They taught diversity. For some kids, that’s the first time they saw a black kid or a child in a wheel chair,” she said.

“Most of these women are brought to light by their paid daily job, and that’s what made them important to the world.”




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