Norman Elementary students meet Anna Howard Shaw

REED CITY – Jasmine Mars was inspired when she learned that Anna Howard Shaw knew more than her teachers.

“The coolest thing is that she was smarter than the teachers. I want to be smarter than the teachers,” Jasmine said.

She and other fourth-graders at G.T. Norman Elementary learned about Shaw last Tuesday in a presentation sponsored by the Reed City chapter of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.

Joyce Iltis, re-enactor from the Big Rapids GFWC dressed up in a nineteenth century style dress and hat and told students the story of Shaw’s life in a 30-minute presentation in the school library. The event was part of a Women’s History Month project to teach fourth graders in Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties about the inspiring local heroine.

Shaw was born in England in 1847 on St. Valentine’s Day and moved with her family to a cabin on 22 Mile Road in Paris when she was 12 years old. The cabin walls were plastered with newspapers for heat, and Shaw read each one of them.

When Shaw enrolled in school at the age of 14, many of her teachers were not as up-to-date on world happenings as she was.

“Unfortunately, maybe some of us can relate. She thought she knew more than the teachers, so she quit school,” Iltis said about the historic figure.

Shaw then became a makeshift teacher, holding sessions to tell other children what she had learned in the newspapers instead of attending school. She moved to Big Rapids at age 17 and heard her first sermon, which led her to enroll in Albion College and later Boston University where she earned degrees in theology. In 1880, Shaw became a Methodist minister and later went back to school to be a doctor.

“I had no idea that she had to go back to school a lot of times,” said fourth-grader Jeffrey Samuels following the presentation.

After becoming a doctor, Shaw travelled around the world with Susan B. Anthony encouraging women to fight for the right to vote.

“I liked that she fought for rights of women,” said Julia Hackworth, fourth grader.

Julia said learning about Shaw made her want to stand up for her rights too.

In Shaw’s 72 years of life, Shaw became the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1983, she was inducted into the Michigan and National Women’s Halls of Fame.

Organizers hope that by bringing the character to life, students were encouraged to make a difference like Shaw did.

“You need to know that your thoughts matter and you can stand out and say what you think and people will listen,” Iltis told students.

Jasmine, who dreams of being the first woman president of the United States, said she liked the presentation and wanted to share what she learned about Shaw with her parents.

The GFWC of Reed City also donated a book that details Shaw’s life to the school, called  “A Voice from the Wilderness,” by Don Brown.

The Mecosta-Osceola Career Center helped the group by printing brochures on Shaw, and Ferris State University’s media productions department printed posters to use with the presentation.