My name is Tyler Caruso and I am a Junior at Messiah University studying film and media production. During this semester as part of the Humanities Projects course at Messiah, I am working on the Women’s History Garden at the Civic Club of Harrisburg. Last semester, Messiah University’s Center for Public Humanities partnered with the Civic Club of Harrisburg to produce plaques memorializing women of past and present who made significant contributions to the city. The plaques feature a picture of the woman alongside a small biography that lists their notable efforts. A QR code is also placed on the plaque that redirects users to the Digital Harrisburg website which hosts a longer-form biography as well as an extended audio clip of additional information on the woman. For an overview of last semester’s work, see Alex Shehigian’s essay here.
This semester I, along with my partner, are tasked with choosing three more women from the past to commemorate. I am working with Kyle Shively on this project, who is also a Humanities Fellow at Messiah and is studying Business Administration/Human Resource Management and Spanish. (If you would like to see all of the fellows and a brief biography of them click here) First, we needed to select a theme for the women, something they all had in common. Given that World Refugee Day is June 20th, we decided that would be a good theme to connect our selections to. Our choices all had an influence on the community, specifically helping refugees or coming from another area to Harrisburg and making an impact.
The women we chose were Pauline Levinsohn, Mary Sachs, and Jane Chester because of their contributions to Harrisburg after moving here from another location. Mary Sachs was a Lithuanian immigrant who came to Harrisburg and began working in a chocolate factory. She later opened her own store. In the present, her foundation helps locals and individuals in need, as she did back in her day. Pauline Levinsohn immigrated from Latvia. While in Harrisburg, she contributed to many key organizations of Jewish life within the city while also being a single mother. Jane Chester, the mother of Thomas Morris Chester, escaped slavery and migrated from the South to Harrisburg. She operated her own catering business, hosted people in the home that she owned, and was heavily involved in the abolitionist movement.
The Civic Club will also choose three women to commemorate related to our theme, from present-day Harrisburg.
The new plaques are to be revealed later this Spring, so it is up to our efforts to research the women and produce the graphics for the plaque, biographies, and audio clips to be used. We are analyzing various sources and even using ancestry.com and obituaries to find the origin of these women, and where their past and present families lived.
I am excited to see the product that we come up with and hope that the community enjoys our contribution. I think that telling the history of unsung heroes is so important, especially to the areas where they made the biggest impact.
A young Mary Sachs
Robin Schwarzmann, “Portrait of Young Mary Sachs,” Mary Sachs, accessed March 3, 2023, https://marysachs.omeka.net/items/show/14.