Historical Exploration with First Ladies National Historic Site

Entering the National Park Service is not something I had in mind. My past internship experiences have been working for either state or private institutions. Due to the National Park Service being a federal agency, my internship experience looked a little different this time. Applying for the internship was a long process and was full of time spent just waiting to hear back from someone. Among the three National Park Sites in Northeast Ohio, James A. Garfield National Historic Site, First Ladies National Historic Site, and Cuyahoga Valley National Park, I applied to and was accepted into all three. I ended up picking the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, Ohio, to complete my internship over the summer of 2022, which ended up being a wonderful experience.

Photo By: Tara Bostater Main site sign

First Ladies National Library, a non-profit organization, acquired the Saxton-McKinley House in 1998 and the City National Bank in 1999. While the First Ladies National Historic Site was established as a National Park Site in 2000, they still work alongside the nonprofit organization.  The City National Bank was constructed in 1895, being the highest building in Canton, Ohio at the time at six stories tall. The bank serves as the visitor center for the site, containing exhibits, archival storage, offices, and a film theatre. It is also believed that President William McKinley did his personal banking there. The Saxton house is a Victorian-style home constructed around 1840 where the National Park tells the story of Ida Saxton McKinley and her lifestyle growing up, her marriage to McKinley, and her life during and after the presidency. Both buildings are used to tell the story of the First Ladies of the United States.

Photo By: Tara Bostater The Saxton House

My internship started the first week of May 2022 along with the two other Pathway summer interns. When I started, my two main jobs were to operate the front desk and provide tours of the Saxton House. Operating the front desk included greeting visitors, running the cash register, signing people up for tours, answering phone calls, and answering any other questions visitors might have. Giving tours of the Saxton House was part of my interpretation duties, as I was asked to prepare my own tour of the house and give it to visitors. Depending on the day, tours were either three times per day or every hour, so I was able to give a tour of the house once per day if not twice. I really enjoyed giving tours of the home because each tour was always different depending on how many visitors were on the tour and what their interests were. It gave me an opportunity to connect with the public in a way I had not experienced before.

In addition to those two daily duties, I was also given projects to work on during my internship. Both the site manager and the Lead Park Ranger at the site were wonderful to work with. They gave me the opportunity to work on a project I was interested in and that would give me the experience I wanted. My projects that I worked on over the summer consisted of creating a new Junior Ranger program for the Saxton House, creating social media posts on lesser known First Ladies, and creating a new special tour for the First Ladies Site.

Creating the new Junior Ranger program was one of my favorite responsibilities. I was able to design a new program for kids to complete to receive their site patch as a reward for completing the book. The book consisted of eight pages and two activities. The activities were designed to help kids be more engaged with the Saxton House tour, encouraging larger families to go on the tour even if some of the kids wouldn’t be interested in the tour itself. In addition to designing things, I was able to create a new First Ladies of the United States pamphlet. This included not only all the First Ladies, but also friends and family members that stepped into the role of First Lady. This prompted the question, who is a First Lady?

Since most people are not aware of acting First Ladies, (women who step up when the President either does not have a First Lady or is unable to attend to official duties), that is what I focused on for on social media post. The social media post consisted of compiling research of the topic and finding credited photos. Even though writing for social media is not my favorite activity, it gave me on opportunity to research lesser known First Ladies and important artifacts to them. An example is the Monroe administration, where Elizabeth Monroe was known for her French fashion, furniture, and customs as she spent a lot of time in France, leading to the American public criticizing them for being too French.

In addition to leading Saxton House tours, researching and creating social media posts, designing pamphlets and the Junior Ranger program, one of the more involved projects included creating a new house tour for the site. The topic that visitors seemed interested in was Ida’s health and how that impacted her relationship with her husband. From that general interest, I created A Medical Journey: 1800s Medical Practices through the Eyes of the McKinley’s. Which explores medical practices during the 1800s and how they changed over time. The tour is currently running as a special program and visitors can sign up for the tour on specific dates.

Photo By: Tara Bostater Medical Tour Poster

My overall experience with First Ladies National Historic Site was a great one. My coworkers were beyond supportive in navigating working for a federal agency and answered all the questions I had. My supervisors also allowed me the opportunity to explore and try new projects that I had not had experience with in the past, they encouraged me to try new things. If I had the chance to work here again, I would take it. The National Park Service offers a wide variety of experiences for students that allows them to try new things and make new connections. This is an internship experience I will never forget.

Photo By: Tara Bostater National Park Sign