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Women in history speakers visit Highlands

Dressed in period clothing, they teach students about the past.

Posted: April 22, 2008 6:32 p.m.
Updated: June 23, 2008 5:01 a.m.

Kathy Harding demonstrates how Abigail Burgess would light a wick used in lamps that helped illuminate lighthouses.

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Abigail Burgess visited Highlands Elementary School recently. Dressed in traditional 1800s-era garb, she shared how she handled the responsibilities of a Maine lighthouse keeper while still a teenager.

Of course, the character from history was actually one of several local women who dressed in period attire and told students of their characters' experiences during the school's women in history week.

Along with Burgess' history lesson on Thursday, the series gave students a glimpse into the lives of other famous women, including Coco Chanel, Joan of Arc and Louisa May Alcott.

As the dozens of quiet fifth- and sixth-graders sat cross-legged, Burgess, played by Kathy Harding, described her life as a lighthouse keeper.

Harding explained the duties of lighthouse keepers and their importance in keeping the ships of the rocky sea safe.

At the age of 14, Burgess became her father's helper.

Together, the two would tend to the lanterns and clean the windows of the lighthouse.

Soon after, Burgess became the sole lighthouse keeper when her father, Thomas, traveled out of town for supplies and equipment.

"When papa came home, he said he knew the family was safe because he could see the light," Harding told the audience as Burgess.

Harding, a Highlands parent, also noted that Burgess was officially honored when in 1997, the United States Coast Guard named a ship after her.

After the presentation, Harding said that while she had participated in the series the year before, this was her first time assuming the role of Burgess.

While Burgess isn't as notable as some other historical women, Harding said, one aspect of the women-in-history series is to expose children to figures they might not have heard of before.

Agat Ayache, coordinator of women-in-history week at Highlands, said students of all grades were able to experience one of the speakers.

She said that not all of the women featured are necessarily famous, but each has made a difference.
And while boys can learn from the speakers, Ayache said one hope is that the girls can learn to be ambitious like the women featured.

"That's also a big part of it," she said.

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