Saturday, November 7, 2009

Calista Jones

As a fourth grader at Fletcher Elementary School in Jamestown, NY, we began our first history project. This was an incredibly exciting time in my life because I was (am) a huge history buff. Luckily, I'm from a town that has done a really great job recording and preserving its historical record, especially if you consider Lucille Ball. ;)

This particular program at my school was devoted to the study of the settlement of Jamestown. Each student was assigned a founding member of the city to embody and study and at the end of the program we put on a show for our parents and reenacted that person's accomplishments.

Who was I going to be assigned? And, more importantly, who was I going to be married to? This was a big deal because this project was about a month long and all the girls were the wives of the founders. I was definitely worried about which little boy would have to be my husband; I didn't want a weirdo after all. And it would be more fun if one of my crushes HAD to be nice to me in class. Well, to my surprise I was cast as Calista Selina Jones, the unmarried school teacher. What!? Lame! I watched all the other kids in the class paired off and I was left alone as the only single person in town ever apparently. I took it in stride however and set off to find out more about Ms. Jones.

We went to the Fenton History Museum, which I will always remember as one of my favorite places from home. The old smells and stories from that building are just so thrilling to me. I attended history camp there for 2 summers and whenever I think about it I smile.  I loved it very much.

Calista Jones was born in Ellicott, NY in 1823. She became a teacher in 1841 and was asked to take over a school district after a male colleague was asked to step down. Ms. Jones said she would take the position if she was paid the same salary as the man, $1 a day. The male administrators said no, so she said no. After their initial stubbornness, they couldn't deny her abilities as an educator and ended up giving her the position on her terms. She worked for the school system for 50 years and helped it become strong and viable. 

Studying Calista was a true awakening for me as it was when I first realized I was a feminist. Her character resonated with me on a really personal level. Why shouldn't a woman be paid the same as a man? I felt incredibly proud to be portraying her. My jealousy towards the other girls melted away as I realized that I actually got to be someone who did it her way and wasn't just an extension of the husband character. As a nine year old this was really powerful. I actually had a little too much pride in the part. About a month after the program ended, I was still signing my homework and tests as "Calista Jones". My teacher had to ask me to go back to Julia Olson.

It was hard to find a lot of information on Calista seeing as we are from a small town and she was a woman, so there isn't much more than this out there. I couldn't find any drawings or portraits of her so you will have to use your imagination.* Going back through her life as an adult has made me realize that she is just as inspirational to me today as she was when I was a child. I don't think I could have done what she did, but I am working towards becoming a better person and she definitely contributes to my motivation.

*My former Social Studies teacher, Jeff Kresge, went and did some extra research for me and found more information and a portrait! I'm reading through the material now but I was way too excited to wait to post the pic! 


  1. Love it. You're getting bookmarked!

    I do NOT miss my 20s. They were fun but the 30s are lovely!

  2. Thanks Nicole for the encouragement!! :)