Marco Seiferle-Valencia, Rebekka Boysen-Taylor
U.S. History
Material Type:
Homework/Assignment, Lesson Plan, Module, Primary Source, Reading, Syllabus, Teaching/Learning Strategy
Middle School
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    Education Standards

    Re-historying the life and work of Anna Murray Douglass

    Re-historying the life and work of Anna Murray Douglass


    Lesson plans and resources for a complete expedition, or several week unit, on the life and times of Anna Murray Douglass. This unit presents multiple avenues and opportunities to expand and complicate the often limiting depictions of Black women in history, using Anna Murray Douglass and her remarkable accomplishments as a focal point. Created by Rebekka Boysen-Taylor.

    Lesson Plan


    Re-historying the life and work of Anna Murray Douglass

    re-history (verb):

    To collaboratively construct a more complete history, beyond the standard historical narrative by including the voices of those whose stories and experiences have been traditionally excluded and omitted. Requires critical research and examination of archived and non-archived information.


    U. S. Common Core English language arts standards challenge students to critically examine multiple perspectives on topics or events. Curricular resources often lack the complexity and nuance needed to achieve this goal and teachers are left to find additional resources to help students see beyond the standard narrative offered in textbooks and lessons.

    This curricular unit is an attempt to re-story the life and work of Underground Railroad conductor and abolitionist Anna Murray Douglass, giving students insight into the process of historical research while expanding the telling of history to include perspectives often left out of the standard historical narrative.

    This lesson aims to look beyond the contributions of those whose stories we know and admire in order to honor the work and resilience of those whose stories have been silenced. We undertake this work alongside our students to better understand our collective history and to recognize the remnants of history we are living with today.

    All teachers are invited to use this curriculum as it suits their specific needs. I have included teacher notes on why students are doing what they are doing for the benefit of new teachers and education students.


    Abundant thanks to the Douglass family, Kenneth Morris Jr., Leigh Fought, Erica Mock, the University of Idaho’s Think Open Graduate Fellowship, Marco Seiferle-Valencia, AJ Aiseirithe, the Library of Congress, Vanessa Anthony-Stevens, Jeneille Branen, and Robert Benz for their significant support of, and contributions to, this project. I am grateful to my husband Erik, daughter Isabella, and son Jackson, along with our extended family, for helping me create the space in our lives for this work.  Thank you all for honoring Anna’s life and work as a woman, wife, mother, homemaker, and conductor with me.

    Guiding Questions

    • Who was Anna Murray Douglass?
    • What risks did Anna take in working as an Underground Railroad conductor?
    • Why is her story not part of the standard historical narrative?

    Standards and Themes

    National Council for the Social Studies Themes


    Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions.


    Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and governance.


    Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

    Idaho Social Studies Standards 

     Goal 1.2: Trace the role of migration and immigration of people in the development of the United States.

     Objective(s): By the end of U.S. History I, the student will be able to:

     6-12.USH Analyze the religious, political, and economic motives of immigrants who came to North America.

     6-12.USH Explain the motives for and the consequences of slavery and other forms of involuntary immigration to North America.

    Common Core ELA Standards 

    Comprehension and Collaboration: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.  

     Range of Writing: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

    Key Ideas and Details: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.1 Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

    CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.6 Determine an author's point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how the author distinguishes his or her position from that of others.

    Integration of Knowledge and Ideas: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts

    Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.10 By the end of grade 8, read and comprehend history/social studies texts in the grades 6-8 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    Comprehension and Collaboration: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.7.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on- one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    Range of Writing: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

    Student Learning Targets

    ● I can analyze primary source documents.

    ● I can gather information and details about Anna Murray Douglass’s life from a primary source using a close read protocol.

    ● I can make inferences about Anna Murray Douglass’s life and support them with evidence.


    Accommodations and extensions for exceptional learners:


     -Pre-loading of content in a small group or one-on-one to build background knowledge and understanding of vocabulary

    -Small group or one-on-one support during work time

    -Option to partner or work alone

    -Focusing on a smaller chunk of complex text during the 2nd read of the text

    -Accommodations as indicated by a 504 plan or IEP


    -Students may opt to independently research the life of daughter Rosetta Douglass Sprague or another abolitionist who was a contemporary of Murray-Douglass and Douglass. They should plan to report their findings to the class in a format that is negotiated with the teacher (they may start this project today and continue it when they finish work early or on their own time).



    Lesson 1, My Mother as I Recall Her


    • Printed copies of word cloud document, double-sided with a photo of Anna on one side and Frederick on the other, 1 per student
    • Text: My Mother as I Recall Her by Rosetta Douglass Sprague, 1 per student plus teacher copy (students can access this text digitally or you can download a pdf to print). Both versions are from the Library of Congress, the second is a full scan and is best for printing, it is not available on the LOC’s website.


    Introduction/activator: 15 minutes

    Pass out the sheet with Anna and Frederick’s photos on opposite sides to each student and ask them to use a pencil for this activity. Each time students revisit this during the unit they will need to use a different color so you can see their knowledge unfolding and know when information was added. Students work independently, in small groups, and debrief as a whole group to document background knowledge.

    Activate: 3 minutes

    Ask students to create word clouds for each person by adding words that describe the person or things they did in pencil as they come to mind. You may or may not have words to add but give it a try. What do you know, or infer, about them? It is ok if you are unsure, just write the words that come to mind down! There is no right or wrong answer.

    Debrief discussion: 3 minutes

    Have students compare what they know about each person in small groups using these questions:

    • Who do you know more about?
    • Why do you think that is?
    • What information is similar and different?

    Whole group: 3 minutes

    Project the two-word clouds on the board and record student responses to the following questions while facilitating a discussion about the following questions-

    • What did you write for each name?
    • Did anyone know anything about Anna at all?
    • If so, how did you know? Did you make an inference?

    Share a little background with students: 2 minutes

    Anna and Frederick were black abolitionists demanding an end to slavery during the 1800’s. While they were both from Maryland, Anna was born free and Frederick was born into slavery. They met in Baltimore when Frederick’s enslaver hired him out as a caulker in the shipyards. Anna helped Frederick to escape and the two were married in the north.[a][b] The form of slavery in the Southern U.S. was legal and racialized (specifically- white people enslaved black people who had been stolen from Africa or born into slavery for financial gain). Americans know much more about Frederick than about Anna, so we need to do some digging to learn more about her contributions to the Underground Railroad, the Douglass family, and the Abolition movement.  The Underground Railroad was a secret network of people who helped freedom seekers escape from enslavement. Conductors helped to transport those seeking freedom, fed them, and provided them with shelter and resources at great personal risk. Anna also donated her personal income to and volunteered for, local Anti-slavery societies. She was an abolitionist, which is someone who demands an end to something, in her case that something was the institution of slavery. As a black woman, wife, and mother, Anna’s work did not receive the same recognition as her husband's due to sexism, just as his work received less recognition than his white contemporaries due to racism.


    Re-storying American history is powerful because it helps us to better understand what really happened, going far beyond the standard narrative offered in textbooks. This work honors our collective history.

    Introduce and unpack (clarify) student learning targets: 3 minutes

    It is essential to share these targets with students and to discuss what they are asking students to do, focus on highlighted terms, along with any other vocabulary students need clarification around.  Students should write the targets on a 3 by 5 card along with their name, these will be used again during the debrief.

    ● I can analyze primary source* documents.

    *Analyzing is looking closely and a primary source is one that was made during the time being studied. These sources are valuable because they are made by people with firsthand experience of the thing they are recording. In contrast, a secondhand source is one made after the time of study by someone without firsthand experience.

    ● I can gather information and details about Anna Murray Douglass’s life from a primary source through multiple readings.

    ● I can make inferences* about Anna Murray Douglass’s life, supported with evidence.  

    *Inferences are educated guesses which combine evidence and reasoning.


    Dig deeper: 20 minutes


    Begin with a first read: Read aloud “My Mother as I Recall Her” by Rosetta Douglass Sprague. Students should listen and follow along to get the gist, or main idea, of the piece.  



    This practice allows students to share background knowledge and to document what they know about the two historical figures. It is likely that students will know much more about Frederick Douglass due to the sexism of those who created the historical record of this time. Shining a light on the fact that not all stories are included in ‘history’ helps students to engage in critical questioning of resources.  Reading a complex text aloud allows all students to access the text and gain familiarity with the information it contains.  


    Second read: 20 minutes


    Students should re-read the text with a partner, or alone, in order to identify important/ unknown vocabulary words and record what they learn about Anna’s life in the word cloud they started during the introduction using a different pen color (so we can see what information came from this text and what was background knowledge).  Teachers may opt to break the text up into several sections, assigning a group or student to each section, in the interest of time, and then having them briefly share with the group.



    Re-reading, with some choice about how to do so, allows students to investigate the text and identify unknown or important vocabulary. Consider allowing some students to work in a small group with you or focus on a smaller chunk of text depending on their readiness and level of independence.  


    Debrief: 5 minutes


    Wrap up the work by debriefing all three learning targets. Students should rate their progress on an exit ticket (they can write the LTs on 3 by 5 cards along with their names). Students should write down specific challenges or successes related to the targets, these do not need to be shared with the group, tell students you will read them after class. Students should rate their mastery of each target 1-4 (1 being confused to 4 being confident enough to teach it to another student).


    The teacher should review the written exit tickets to plan the next day’s work.  This habit of checking in at the end of a lesson is an essential part of responsive teaching to inform your next steps. .


    Lesson 2, Working Like a Historian

    Please review this information from the Library of Congress prior to teaching this lesson. Students will analyze Anna’s application for a Freedom Certificate today and will be using the Library of Congress’s Primary Source Analysis Tool to record their thoughts and questions. My Mother as I Recall Her can also be analyzed using this tool if students need more time with that document.




    Introduction/Activator: 10 minutes


    In the last lesson, students began to learn about Anna Murray Douglass. By now they should know that much of her story is hidden and be ready to dig deeper. Today they will learn how historian Leigh Fought researched Anna’s life as part of a book she wrote. To begin, share the excerpt of Women in the World of Frederick Douglass with students by reading it aloud. This piece connects the reading from the previous lesson. Ask students to re-read the excerpt and mark important vocabulary words. After 5 minutes ask students which words they chose and record them on the board or word wall, pausing to discuss words that are unknown to students.


    This will help students connect their previous learning to today’s activity and give you an idea of how they are handling vocabulary in this complex text. Consider incorporating a mini-lesson on using context clues to uncover the meaning of unknown words.


    Dig Deeper: 10 minutes


    Today students will be using the Library of Congress’ Primary Source Analysis Tool to guide the examination of a record of Anna (here she is referred to as Amy) Murray’s Freedom Certificate. You can use the questions in the guide you reviewed to help facilitate a discussion with students.

    Review Learning Target

    ● I can analyze primary source documents.

    Analyzing is looking closely and a primary source is one that was made during the time being studied. These sources are valuable because they are made by people with firsthand experience of the thing they are recording. In contrast, a secondhand source is one made after the time of study.

    Primary Source Analysis Process

    1. Examine the Freedom Certificate for 2 minutes silently, recording any observations (things you notice), reflections (thoughts), or questions about the document.
    2. With a partner discuss what each of you wrote for 2 minutes.
    3. Whole group discussion of observations, reflections, and questions for 6 minutes.



    Giving students time, and support, to analyze primary source documents allows them to learn firsthand from the artifacts, photographs, and documents of the time and people they are studying. This helps develop an understanding of the historical context and helps students guide their own research agendas based on their specific questions.

    Working like a historian: 25 minutes


    Working in table groups students should read the correspondence between a middle school teacher and Leigh Fought as they work to understand the Freedom Certificate record. Once they are done reading the email exchange students should discuss what they have read and add any additional information or questions about this source to their Primary Source Analysis Tool. Table group discussion: What can we learn about being a historian from this conversation?


    This illuminates the way real-world professionals interact with source documents and think about their work. This knowledge adds authenticity to students’ work with source documents. If you have the time, consider visiting a local historical society or museum as a class or invite an archivist or historian to share their work and tell students how to access local archives or collections.


    This application includes applications for Anna and 3 of her siblings. On the ledger, her 2 older siblings are listed as free-born. This conflicts with all other historical accounts listing Anna as the first free-born child in her family. Currently the Douglass family and most historians consider Anna to be the first free-born child in the Murray family, but this certificate raises questions about that claim as a topic for future inquiry. Students would need to research the process of applying for freedom certificates in Maryland at this time and work with historians to identify/examine more primary sources.

    Debrief: 15 minutes

    Add new, or more detailed information, to your word cloud from the last lesson using a black pen for the next 4 minutes.

    Table discussion, 6 minutes

    • How did your understanding of Anna change after reading a secondary source (Women in the World of Frederick Douglass excerpt)?
    • How did your understanding of Anna change after analyzing a primary source (Freedom Certificate)?
    • What did you learn about being a historian from the conversation between Leigh Fought and a teacher?
    • What text was the most helpful to you today?

    Invite table groups to share out a few big takeaways with the whole group (5 minutes). Ask students to self-assess their progress toward today’s learning target on a scale of 1-4 (1 being confused, 4 being ready to teach this content)

    ● I can analyze primary source documents.

    Lesson 3, Who was Anna?


    Today students will explore the following articles, print enough of each to accommodate student choice, and make sure that all articles are read by at least two-three students.  

    New York Amsterdam News Article 3/8/18

    Smithsonian Article 5/5/18

    Black Past Article 2/11/07

    School Renaming 

    Green pen for final word cloud activity

    Introduction/activator: 5 minutes

    By now you know much more about Anna than most Americans! According to the book, Frederick and Anna Douglass in Rochester New York, Their Home was Open to All by author Rose O’Keefe, Anna was “considered one of the first agents of the Underground Railroad”, taking “a lively interest in all aspects of the anti-slavery movement” (O’Keefe, p. 70-71).  In fact, we think that she cared for 400-500 freedom seekers over the years. Today you have the chance to explore the text of your choice to learn a few more things about Anna’s life and work.

    Dig Deeper: 25 minutes (20 min of reading and recording information, 5 min for sharing out with someone who read another text)


    Select one of the three texts to work with today (show students where they are in the room). Read your text carefully, you can do this on your own, in a partnership or small group. Find new information or details to add to your word cloud and be ready to share this information with someone who read another text.  When the 25 minutes of reading and recording is up teacher directs students to quickly and silently find someone who read another text (model holding the text up to find a partner without speaking). You each have about two minutes to share new information from your article.  Use your whole 2 minutes to share and return to your seats when both partners have shared.


    Giving students agency in selecting their text and the responsibility of sharing what they learned with another student increases student engagement.

    Assess: 30 minutes

    It is time to assess student understanding of the guiding questions! Students will show their understanding of the guiding questions in a written reflection. You may adapt this task for students who need additional support by allowing for the use of voice-to-text technology, a scribe, or a conversation with the teacher.

    • Who was Anna Murray Douglass?
    • What risks did Anna take in working as an Underground Railroad conductor?
    • Why is her story not part of the standard historical narrative?

    Have students write a reflective paragraph for each of the guiding questions. Encourage them to use evidence from the texts they read in their answers. Before students write look over this reflective writing rubric from Red Write Think together. You can use this rubric to assess the range of writing standards for your grade level along with key ideas and details, and the integration of knowledge and ideas.

    Print the questions out for students, share them digitally, or project them on the board before the 30 minutes of writing time begins.


    Optional next steps: 5 minutes


    Introduce options for ways to demonstrate student learning as a culminating activity for this unit and assess student interest as you begin to make a plan. Examples of culminating activities might include: a collaborative concept map of Anna’s contributions to the Abolition movement and the Underground Railroad, a public event educating people about Anna’s legacy, individual or collective art piece(s) with artist statement, individual letters to Anna, or an interactive map of Anna’s life.


    Co-creating the learning plan and discussing authentic culminating projects increases student engagement. Teachers know that they need to focus on specific skills which can be done with creativity as the learning community decides how to best synthesize the learning. Make your planning process transparent for students and include them in the process.







    The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass Bicentennial Edition, by Frederick Douglass (Author), Robert J Benz (Editor), Bryan Stevenson (Introduction), Morris Jr, Kenneth B (Foreword), Nettie Washington Douglass (Foreword)

    Women in the World of Frederick Douglass, by Leigh Fought

    Frederick & Anna Douglass in Rochester, New York: Their Home Was Open to All, by Rose O’Keefe

    The Library of Congress, Primary Source Analysis



    This work is shared under a Creative Commons BY-NC License. This means you can remix and reuse the material with the following restrictions: you must attribute the creator, preferred citation information is provided below, and you may not use the work in a commercial setting. This license is superceded by the individual license of materials that are generously allowed for inclusion by their respective copyright holder. Contact the University of Idaho Open Education Librarian with any questions. 


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    "Re-historying the life and work of Anna Murray Douglass"

    Created by: Rebekka Boysen-Taylor, University of Idaho, Spring 2020