Lesson: Women in Milwaukee History, Document-Based Question

Catherine Conroy sits on the left in glasses and long sleeved blouse showing a necklace she holds with both hands to other women beside her. Their eyes look at the chain while smiling in their formal attire.
Students spend five days building an essay on how women shaped Milwaukee history. They specifically investigate women’s contributions to professional careers, aid to immigrants, civil rights, and political activities. Students annotate Encyclopedia of Milwaukee entries, classify facts into categories, develop a thesis to a research question, outline a five-paragraph essay, and write the essay with supporting facts from the encyclopedia.


SS.Inq3.a.h Develop a defensible claim to provide focus for an inquiry that is based upon the analysis of sources.
SS.Hist3.a.h Analyze significant historical periods and their relationship to present issues and events.

Introductory Activities

  1. Ask the students to brainstorm on paper a list of women they admire. They can be women of the present or the past. Students must have a reason for why they admire each of these women. After a few minutes, take suggestions and write them on the board. (10 minutes)

  2. As a class, categorize the women listed on the board intro groups. If possible, make sure the following groups are present: professional careers, aid to immigrants, civil rights, and political activities. Most likely, the immigrant category will not be present. (10 minutes)

  3. Draw a 2×2 chart on the board with the four headings of professional careers, aid to immigrants, civil rights, and political activities. Ask the students who else they can think of in these categories. Write suggestions in the chart. Explain that over the next five days, students will learn about how Milwaukee women contributed to each of these fields. (5 minutes)

Developmental Exercises

  1. Pass out the packet of encyclopedia entries. Students should underline main ideas and place stars next to important details. (25 minutes on day 1 and 35 minutes on day 2)

  2. Have the students fill in the chart to organize their notes. Some women may fit into more than one category. (15 minutes)

  3. On day 3, students should use the internet to find out about notable women who are involved in each of the four categories. The teacher may have to provide some resources. This activity could be extended over a couple of days if desired.

  4. Have the students outline their essays on day 4. The outline is set up for three categories, so students should choose the three categories that are most important to them. (50 minutes)


  1. Students should convert their outlines to five-paragraph essays on day 5.

Extension Activities

Use the “Browse by Subject” option at the Encyclopedia of Milwaukee. Under the “Gender and Sexuality” subject, there are additional women who were leaders in education, philanthropy, and other fields. Teachers could add additional topics and give students more choices in what they want to write about. Students could also use the EMKE Digital Bibliography to write in-depth reports on specific women.