"Looking at Lincoln: Political Cartoons from the Civil War Era" exhibit will be in two schools in March and April of this year.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History’s national touring exhibition, “Looking at Lincoln: Political Cartoons from the Civil War Era,” will be on display in Catholic elementary schools in Southern Erie County beginning next month.
The exhibition will be on display at Our Lady of Victory School in Lackawanna from March 1-29, and at St. Bernadette School in Orchard Park from April 1-29. Catholic elementary schools in the Southtowns are working together to enrich their students’ education in American history, with students scheduled to visit the exhibit.
“We were thrilled that the exhibit could begin with us,” said Sister Ellen O’Keefe, SSJ, principal of Our Lady of Victory School. “Our students and parishioners are the first people in Western New York to see this wonderful exhibition.”
The exhibit focuses on images of Abraham Lincoln through the sometimes scathing wit of the political cartoonists of his time, giving visitors the opportunity to set aside their current assumptions of Lincoln and see the man through the eyes of his contemporaries.
“We often assume that President Lincoln was universally respected,” said St. Bernadette principal, Sister Diane Swanson, RSM. “In reality, he was often vilified during his lifetime. This exhibition provides an opportunity for students to see what Lincoln’s own generation thought of him.”
As Americans continue to weigh the legacy of slavery, the exhibit allows viewers to explore the issue as it appeared in newspapers during the Civil War era. Without television, radio or the Internet, Americans relied on the political cartoons in newspapers to express and literally draw out the tensions of the time.
“Young people live in a world of instant messaging and twitter-ing,” said Denise Hansgen, social studies teacher at St. Bernadette’s. “They see it as an ephemeral form of communicating, but it often has unintended and far reaching consequences. The exhibit allows students to see how often transitory ideas were spread during Lincoln’s day and how they have become part of the historical record.”
The schools hosting this year’s exhibit will be augmenting it with special displays to provide a sense of what was happening locally during Lincoln’s presidency. These enhancements include photographs of local soldiers who served during the Civil War, war memorabilia, letters, coins and currency from Lincoln’s time.
At Our Lady of Victory School, social studies teacher Marian Abram is linking the exhibit with the recently opened Father Nelson A. Baker Museum at Our Lady of Victory Basilica.
“Our founder, Father Baker, actually served in Gettysburg and the New York City (Draft) Riots as a Civil War soldier,” said Abram. “My mind has been spinning with ideas to enhance the opportunity of the Gilder Lehrman exhibit.”
Hansgen plans to complement the exhibit with student-produced displays and participation as well as “other special things” at St. Bernadette School’s presentation. These additions, along with the artifacts and documents that comprise the exhibit, Hansgen said, will allow students to focus on the reality and complexity of the 16th president.
“With the economy the way it is,” said Sister Ellen, “many schools have had to cut back on field trips and enrichment activities. With this affiliation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute gives us the opportunity to bring a museum-quality exhibit into the school.”
“Not only are we saving money,” said Sister Diane, “we’ve created a situation in which our students will be able to experience a different exhibit every year.”
As affiliates of the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the schools will have the opportunity to host one of a variety of exhibits each year. Admission to the exhibit is free.
For more information on the exhibit, visit www.gilderlehrman.org/institute/public_traveling.html.