SIDNEY — Through the talents of Dana Gagnon, wife, mother and noted author Harriet Beecher Stowe will attend Sidney, Ohio’s Civil War Living History Weekend on Saturday, Sept. 15. Then on Sunday, Sept. 16, Gagnon will return as Helen Peabody, an educator with deep Ohio connections.
The only presenter from the 2016 event to make an encore appearance, Gagnon appeared in 2016 as Harriet Beecher Stowe. Gagnon has been participating in living history events for more than sixteen years, and has portrayed Stowe since 2013.
“We have a lot in common,” Gagnon said. “We are both teachers, we are both New Englanders and we were both transplanted to Cincinnati.”
“One of the things about doing an impression of Stowe is that you don’t have to imagine what she was thinking about any topic. She wrote down her thoughts and her family saved her voluminous correspondence. Much of her correspondence has been published and is readily available. As a result, it is easy to immerse oneself in her character,” Gagnon said.
One of the things Gagnon will discuss is the most famous of her books, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In fact, when President Abraham Lincoln greeted Stowe at a White House reception on November 25, 1862, he reportedly said, “So you are the little lady who started this big war!”
Stowe is Gagnon’s most requested impression. Uncle Tom’s Cabin—the book that stirred up such passion when it was published—has its seeds right here in Ohio, where Harriet Beecher Stowe lived for almost 20 years. As Harriet Beecher Stowe, Gagnon will tell take you inside the moments of her life in Cincinnati that inspired so much of the book.
Gagnon will also portray Helen Peabody, the first president of Western College in Oxford, Ohio. As a young girl, Peabody was deeply interested in academics and, encouraged and aided by her brothers, she secured a place at Kimball Union where two brothers and two sisters had been students before her. She studied there before attending Mount Holyoke Seminary [called Mount Holyoke College since 1893], ‘…the pioneer institution for the higher education of women in this country.’
Peabody graduated with high honors in 1848. As the favorite student of Mary Lyon, president of the college, she stayed on as a teacher for several years.
Western Female Seminary was established in 1853, becoming a seminary and college in 1894 as a daughter school of Mount Holyoke. The founders felt that the eastern college ‘…should be duplicated in the West.’
In fact, Western became known as the Mount Holyoke of the West. Western stated its primary purpose ‘…the education of the hearts, the hands and the brains of the young women of the West…’ as Ohio was at that time.
“During war time, more than ever, parents had to look to the proper education of their young ladies,” Gagnon said. Gagnon, portraying Peabody, will hold an informational session for parents who wish to learn about enrolling their daughters in the ladies’ college. Those attending the session will learn about a woman’s educational opportunities in Ohio, and how they were changing as a result of the Civil War.
Gagnon spent two years on staff at Heritage Village Museum in Cincinnati. She is currently an officer of the Ladies Living History Society of Greater Cincinnati and the coordinator for the Western Female Seminary Living History Society. She has lived in Ohio for more than fifteen years, where she has been able to participate in historical events at Heritage Village in Sharon Woods, the Cincinnati Museum Center, the Taft birth home, the Ohio Village in Columbus, Caesar Creek’s Pioneer Village, and Battery Hooper at the James Ramage Civil War Museum in Kentucky.
Gagnon has a degree in English from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, and has taught high school classes in literature and drama locally. When she is not time-traveling, Gagnon volunteers in media production at a local community access television station and at her church.
Gagnon will portray Harriet Beecher Stowe at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning. On Sunday morning, she will portray Helen Peabody, also at 10 a.m. Both presentations will be in the education tent located near the shelter house at Wagner Glade.