Currently, in my (limited) spare time, I am reading The Witches, Salem 1692 a weighty 400 page historical work by Stacy Schiff, an author whose previous historical look into the life of Cleopatra I enjoyed very much. While it’s hardly light reading (and I mean that literally since it is not on my Kindle) and there are certainly no surprise endings, it is a worthwhile look into a historical event within our country that centered primarily on women. For non historians, some of our knowledge of this event may stem more from Arthur Miller or even Disney (think the Sanderson sisters in Hocus Pocus), but Salem in 1692 was a tragic event for the country and one that should not be forgotten. Although five men were executed for witchcraft during the 1692 hysteria, nineteen women were executed during that time and over 200 were imprisoned, ranging in age from 5 to 82. As Schiff points out early on; “Along with suffrage and Prohibition, the Salem Witch Trials represent one of the few moments when women played a central role in American history.”
Not a role any of the accused or executed took on willingly and as we are aware, not one of these women (or men) who were hanged were guilty of any witchcraft whatsoever. But Schiff’s quote struck a nerve with me; although our country’s history is relatively short when compared with others, it is those three events (and perhaps a major one looming on the horizon in November), where women have been the chief focus of a monumental historical event. In discussing the trials and the women who were accused in detail, Schiff denounces, and rightly so, those who perpetrated this act of persecution and violence. It was a product of the times and the belief of the times, of that there is no doubt, but the evidence presented would have perhaps been more readily disregarded if in fact, many of the accused had been wealthy, prosperous men during that same time period. She ventures on to point out that during the 300th anniversary events in 1992 to commemorate the victims of the trials, a park was dedicated in Salem and a memorial in Danvers. In November 2001, the Massachusetts legislature passed an act exonerating all of those convicted and listing them by name, including some persons left out of earlier actions. However, her conclusion, she succinctly puts it, is that, for women at that time “the best heroine is an accidental one.” I concede to her view, although I think she could have used a stronger word; the word I would have chosen would have been martyr.
Prejudice against women is not an unfamiliar historical tale, for any one of us. Many of us are also familiar with the key phrase “those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.” In essence, this may or not be entirely true all of the time. However, when major historical injustices occur, it is important and imperative that we, as a country, make sure that the implications of those injustices are explained to our children, so that they cannot manifest again in one form or another. What happened in Salem in 1692 is just one example of a grave injustice toward primarily women and although it may not receive more than a paragraph in a history textbook, it is one that should be called to our attention time and again, until we ensure that blind persecution does not occur in this day and age.
At Saint Dominic Academy, we have always put forth a concentrated effort to ensure that our young ladies receive an in-depth look at historical events, within both their history and literature classes, so that they are more aware and more well versed in just how and why these tragedies occurred and what can be done to prevent them from happening again. Our AP History scores since 2012 attest to the fact that we make certain that the young ladies at Saint Dominic Academy are true scholars of American History. Over 70 of our students, from 2012 to 2016 have earned college credit in History through our AP History and Government classes. We currently offer AP History on the 10th, 11th, and 12th grade level, with great success, in our efforts to ensure that our young ladies will not only never repeat histories past mistakes, but work to continue to change history for the better for women everywhere.