Colonial Middle School (CMS) eighth grade social studies classes recently welcomed Amanda Owen, Executive Director of The Justice Bell Foundation, and CMS English Teacher Michele Stingle, who told the story of local women's rights activists from the early 20th century and the journey of the Justice Bell.
"It's exciting to know that there's a bell created by women for women to have the justice to vote," said Logan Brash, an eighth grader at CMS. "It was important to our history as to how we became America as it is today."
History of the Justice Bell
In 1915, the Justice Bell toured each county in Pennsylvania (and later traveled across the country) as a symbol of the women's suffrage movement. During the trips, the clapper was chained to the inside of the bell to represent the silence of women who were not legally allowed to vote in the United States. To celebrate the ratification of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote, the Justice Bell finally sounded, ringing 48 times (once for every state in the Union at the time) on the steps of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in September 1920.
For fifty years, the two-thousand-pound Justice Bell sat in obscurity on the grounds of Washington Memorial Chapel in Valley Forge National Park. It was found in the woods in the early 1990s, released to the League of Women Voters to tour in honor of their 75th anniversary and returned to go on display in the rotunda of the chapel, where it remains today.
Project-based learning at CMS
After sharing the story of the Justice Bell, Ms. Owen and Mrs. Stingle challenged the students to create a project that further explores women's rights or injustices that the students still see or experience themselves. The students have a month to complete their work and are encouraged to use the Makerspace and other resources in the school's library. The Justice Bell Foundation will judge the different projects, award winners and sponsor a display of selected entries at the William Jeanes Memorial Library in Lafayette Hill.
"There's still inequality today," said Owen Klein, an eighth grader at CMS. "The Justice Bell is a good symbol of freedom and reminder for justice and equality. I'm inspired to put something together."
The Justice Bell project ties into the eighth grade social studies curriculum through their study of the United States' first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, which is also timed in conjunction with International Women's Day and Women's History Month.
This project was developed by Mrs. Stingle, who also serves as the Education Director of the Justice Bell Foundation. With the success of the pilot at Colonial Middle School, the Justice Bell project will serve as a model for schools throughout Montgomery County.