This story was written in collaboration with the Colchester Historical Society.
A first-time submission from Colchester High School (CHS) in the Vermont History Day (VHD) contest has resulted in a rookie winner.
Sophomore Thomas Buckley took second place in the Senior Historical Paper category of the 2020 competition and will now move on as a National History Day qualifier. Victoria Hughes, museum and education manager for the Vermont Historical Society, says that Buckley was the first and only entrant from Colchester to ever participate in the prestigious statewide event.
With the support and suggestions of CHS English teachers Megan Gagne and Jason Thime, as well as guidance counselor Robert Hall, Buckley authored a paper titled “Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington: Margaret Chase Smith and the Rise of McCarthyism.” That decision was to fit the bill for this year’s competition theme of “Breaking Barriers in History.”
"I spent a long time searching for a VHD topic,” said Buckley. “I ultimately decided to go with Margaret Chase Smith because I thought that her story was interesting and somewhat unknown. I was really interested in how the sole woman in the Senate, in her first term as Senator, was able to stand up to [Senator Joseph] McCarthy when no one else would. Besides that, I'm obviously extremely excited to be participating in National History Day, and I hope that more students from Colchester participate in the future!"
Buckley’s paper delves into Chase Smith’s trailblazing political career which saw her become one of the first women to hold various offices--including being the first to serve in both parts of Congress. It also detailed her willingness to speak up against McCarthy, his allegations of specific Americans being members of the Community Party in 1950, and his ensuing attack of citizen’s civil liberties.
In addition to having his paper qualify for the national level of the competition, Buckley has been awarded a one-year free membership to the Colchester Historical Society. The society is hopeful that more local teachers and students get involved in the 2021 installment of the contest--which Buckley has already started thinking about. Next year’s theme will be “Communication in History: The Key to Understanding.”
“I was thrilled to hear that Thomas had received this award,” said Gagne. “Thomas is such an inquisitive student. It was a pleasure to work with him on this, but I honestly helped very little overall, as he is a very bright individual and very independent learner. Thomas has a thirst for knowledge and is a pleasure to teach. I am excited to see what his future holds, as he has great potential. I expect we'll see more awards and accolades in his future!”
Buckley said that the most exciting aspect of putting the paper together was conducting the necessary research--including learning more about Chase Smith and finding audio recordings of her along the way.
“I was struck by her acts of political courage,” he said, “and she was one of the most influential women in Congress for her time.”
Submitted papers are required to be a certain length and must include a bibliography--citing primary and secondary sources.
The competition has two divisions based on school grade: Junior Division includes grades 6-8 while the Senior Division includes grades 9-12. This year, there were 167 students from Vermont submitting 113 projects--representing 28 schools and home schools across the state. 91 of those students were presented with awards or ribbons by the Vermont Historical Society.
78 volunteer judges were also a valuable part of the process of making the 2020 Vermont History Day a significant learning opportunity. Their feedback and encouragement helped the students become better historians. Participating judges from Colchester included Inge Schaefer and Bonnie Potter from the Colchester Historical Society as well as four professors from Saint Michael's College.
More information about Vermont History Day can be found at vermonthistory.org/historyday/.
The Colchester Historical Society is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving this town's local history. Learn more by visiting colchestervt.gov/422/Colchester-Historical-Society and its Facebook page. New members are always welcome.