Each year, the Penguin Hall community comes together for Symposium Week for intentional learning outside the classroom accompanied by master classes, student presentations and guest speakers. For Symposium 2021 “Express Yourself!” APH had the privilege of being one of the first groups to view a brand new documentary titled Borderland: The Life and Times of Blanche (Ames) Ames. After the viewing, the creator and narrator of the film, Kate Klise joined our community virtually for a Q&A session.

Kate Klise is a former People magazine correspondent and the author of more than thirty books for young readers. Kate first learned about Blanche Ames while serving as writer-in-residence for the Ames Free Library. The name appeared as a footnote while Kate was conducting research. This discovery by chance would lead to the uncovering of the wild, unapologetic and inspiring life of a lesser-known suffragette who shattered the glass ceiling in regards to women’s rights in our home of Massachusetts.

Photos by Nuno Patricio

According to the film, Blanche Ames came from a long line of strong women and powerful men–two generals and a popular Shakespearian actress. Blanche wanted more than what the Victorian era promised young women and she knew she was destined for greatness. Below is an excerpt from the documentary website:

“Beginning with a speech she delivered to President McKinley as president of her class at Smith College (class of 1899), Blanche Ames became a leader of the woman suffrage movement in Massachusetts. She used her talents as an artist to create pro-suffrage political cartoons that both inspired and enraged. President Taft responded personally to one of her cartoons. Later, Blanche would turn her attention to reproductive rights, becoming the first president of the Birth Control League of Massachusetts in 1916. She eventually split with Margaret Sanger over the issue of eugenics.

Blanche Ames took on society’s elite, the Catholic Church, even her in-laws while advocating for women’s rights. She chose a partner, Oakes Ames, who was not related, though they shared the same last name. Oakes Ames was equally dedicated to women’s rights. Together, the couple wrote, drew, rallied, and organized, all while raising four children at their home called Borderland, now a Massachusetts state park in North Easton, Massachusetts.”

After the film viewing, one of the questions asked during the Q&A session was “How does this film relate to the Symposium theme of ‘Express Yourself!’? Ms. Klise explained that without Blanche’s constant dedication to her values, the things she accomplished for women would not have been possible. Blanche knew who she was and what she was meant to do. She wasn’t tied down to societal norms or the traditional pressures for women. Instead, she spoke her truth and ignited a movement in her community that left an impact–the ripple effect we still feel today. 

Students gather in the WOW room to view the documentary together.

Kate Klise participates in a virtual Q&A session with the APH community.

With our students gathered in their advisory classrooms, they watched this documentary as part of their Symposium week. But the significance of the moment can’t go unnoticed. Here we are, a school for girls, empowering them to live out their truths, use their voices, and create positive change for our world. Our girls can be whatever and whoever they choose to be and the world lays before them rich with opportunities. It’s ground-breaking women like Blanche who we have to thank. Without their sacrifice, determination and values, we wouldn’t be here today. And yet, there is still more work that has to be done. With the road paved and set before them, our students will continue walking towards the goals these great women of the past have begun.