Emma Willard School’s history department recently hosted Dr. Eric Foner, one of the most prominent historians in the United States.
Dr. Foner is the DeWitt Clinton Professor Emeritus of History at Columbia University, and is one of only two people to serve as president of the three major professional organizations: The Organization of American Historians, American Historical Association, and Society of American Historians. He is also one of a handful to have won the Bancroft and Pulitzer Prizes in the same year. Emma Willard students knew of Dr. Foner in advance of his visit, as he is the author of their U.S. history textbook, in addition to a wide range of other publications.
His works concentrate on the on the intersections of intellectual, political, and social history, and the history of American race relations. In a special all-school assembly, Dr. Foner discussed how the Civil War and Reconstruction changed the Constitution, as well as the battle over interpretations of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments.
“Reconstruction was a remarkable experiment that lasted a few short years and is an example of why history matters today,” he said. He highlighted how many issues of that period, including voting rights and terrorism, are still debated by voters today.
He cited Troy Female Seminary graduate Elizabeth Cady Stanton as one voice of the Reconstruction, who petitioned lawmakers to look outside of the narrow view of the constitution and reconsider what it meant to be a citizen and “free person” in the United States.
Dr. Foner detailed each of the Reconstruction amendments, highlighting specific language additions and how interpretations have changed and been reconsidered in the decades since.
“American history is a story of ups and downs, not a gradual increase in rights,” he said, adding that revelations made during reconstruction may serve as an inspiration for progressive progress moving forward.
Emma Willard students had several significant questions for Dr. Foner, covering the topics of reparations, his experiences seeing the collapse of the Soviet Union while working in Russia, and lessons of Reconstruction that can be applied today.
“The price of liberty is eternal diligence…We cannot be complacent and take rights for granted. Things are always vulnerable,” he concluded.
Emma Willard School is grateful to Dr. Foner for his visit and thought-provoking and inspiring lecture!