Alex Goslin and Gianna Padula took all the prep they do for debates and turned it into a winner for themselves, St. Luke Parish School and for the state.

And soon they’ll know if their exhibit board on local suffrage leader Grace Wilbur Trout and how she helped bring women the right to vote in Illinois will garner national honors as well. 

The pair’s work will be the Illinois representative at the annual National History Day Contest. The event will take place June 15-19 in College Park, Maryland.

They will compete in the junior group exhibit board competition for grades sixth-eighth against more than 100 entries from around the United States, from American Samoa, Guam and a number of international schools. 

Students from St. Luke had made it to the state tournament in Springfield several times but never to the national competition, said Jim Bratager, who teaches social studies at St. Luke. The pair learned in May that they would be heading east for the finals.

The theme for this year’s contest was Rights and Responsibilities. The spark that led them to Trout was a Wednesday Journal story Bratager showed them on the Oak Park resident, whose tenacity helped make Illinois, in 1913, the first state east of the Mississippi to pass a law giving women the vote. 

The exhibit board contains copies of articles, photographs and material they found in their research. There even is one cartoon. The exhibit also contains a replica of a ballot box used during elections of the time. 

Goslin and Padula, both members of the St. Luke debate team, did extensive research on Trout and the women’s suffrage movement, drawing from a lot of primary source material at the Oak Park and River Forest Historical Society, the Chicago Tribune, the Library of Congress and other reliable sources. 

The pair said they had fun and a lot of help. Frank Lipo, executive director of the historical society, opened up the offices on his day off so they could come in and do research. School librarian Becky Knoble and staff members Amy Gleason and Claire Batherson, helped out as well.

They found, through their work, that Trout was resilient, courageous and a good role model for how to stick with what you want no matter what the odds. 

“She did what she thought was right. She didn’t let go of her passions. She did what she believed in,” said the 14-year-old Goslin, who will attend St. Ignatius College Prep in the fall. 

“It took two tries, in 1912 and 1913, but she didn’t give up,” said the 13-year-old Padula, who will be a freshman at Trinity High School this fall. “She inspired us to do the extraordinary.”

The pair leave for Maryland later this week and will spend considerable time preparing for the contest as well as paring down the number of words on the exhibit board and at the same time including material on the opponents of women’s suffrage.

Once in Maryland they are looking forward to having fun and trading buttons with students from other states. Padula’s real goal is to get a button from Guam. 

They earned a bit of recognition from the school. A proclamation about their achievement as state representatives was read on the floor of the Illinois House late last week. “The real award was “going to Washington, D.C. and being there to represent the school and the state,” both said almost simultaneously. 

The annual contest is sponsored by National History Day, a national organization that focuses on raising awareness of the importance of history and how it relates to daily life. The program helps foster critical thinking and problem-solving skills, research and reading skills and a sense of responsibility for and involvement in the democratic process, according to its website.

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