Riley Elementary School will celebrate Kansas Day on Jan. 29 with special guests Amelia Earhart and Calamity Jane. The historical figures are portrayed by Ann Birney as Earhart and Joyce Thierer as Martha Jane Cannary, better known as Calamity Jane.
The reenactors are part of historical performance troupe Ride into History. Amelia Earhart is scheduled to spend time with students in the morning, and Calamity Jane will arrive in the afternoon.
Calamity Jane is associated with the frontier of the American West, and Amelia Earhart with the frontier of flight.
Earhart was born in 1897 and gained fame in 1928 as the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. In 1932 she became the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic. She disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937.
Cannary (1852-1903) was an excellent rider and able to hunt, farm, and drive a team. In time she claimed that she was “the only woman scout the U.S. cavalry ever had.” She also played traditional women’s roles on the frontier, giving birth, for instance, in a dugout along the Yellowstone River.
Thierer, a history professor at Emporia State University, has been performing Calamity Jane since 1989. She has researched, published, and lectured in the areas of women’s history, rural life, and agricultural history.
Birney has her doctorate in American Studies from the University of Kansas. She researches women and work and has been performing with Ride into History since 1993.
According to Thierer and Birney, one of the most fascinating things about the women they portray is how an ordinary girl becomes a young woman whose choices change history and make her an American symbol, a mythic figure. They want their performances to help people understand “what each of us has in common with these extraordinary people — and with each other. It is our choices that make each of us extraordinary.”
As a “new woman” of the twentieth century, Amelia Earhart was a risk-taker, becoming a public figure, participating in sports, and speaking her mind. But she had also been raised to be a proper lady. Her modesty and manners made her acceptable to people who identified with the Victorian age. Earhart was one of our first celebrities, known throughout the world, but very private in an age when that was still possible. She knew that as a public person she had to create an image acceptable to both herself and her public.
Although Calamity Jane was of the nineteenth century, she had much to offer Earhart’s generation of risk-takers. As Thierer remarks, “She may have lived largely outside proper roles for women, but those roles were clearly labeled, and she knew the meaning of the choices she made. Earning wages which would enable her to be independent meant wearing men’s clothing and becoming a man among men, and an outsider in ‘proper’ society. Circumstances having placed her on the western frontier, she became also a marker on the frontier of possibilities for women. In her later life Calamity Jane manipulated her public image, earning her living not as a scout or stagecoach driver, but as a novelty, a storyteller who told her stories in exchange for basic necessities. She was a survivor who died young.