Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Patrick Lee about how he began portraying Thomas Jefferson in Jefferson City. What started as a single appearance grew and now includes a blog. Thomas Jefferson’s blog is a great way to make history, particularly presidential history, come alive for your students.
“Knickers and pantyhose” are what I wear to work. It all began as a lark...
In 1990, the Jefferson City Convention and Visitor’s Bureau was seeking someone to portray Thomas Jefferson and welcome conventions to their namesake city. Jefferson Bank, a local financial institution, commissioned the creation of a Jefferson costume and donated it to the city. (The costume included knee pants and long stockings, later dubbed "knickers and pantyhose" by a female audience member.) All they needed was someone with the guts to wear it, stand before strangers, and speak as our nation’s third President. Events conspired to put me in the right place at the right time, and I was offered that opportunity.
I can’t convey how little I knew as I stood before the American Diabetes Association on May 5, 1990, for my first presentation. My knowledge of Thomas Jefferson was slim and my experience speaking publicly,
non-existent. To my great surprise (and relief!), the ADA loved Thomas Jefferson’s encouraging comments about good health, public service and volunteerism. Twenty-one years and hundreds of presentations later, I’ve appeared before convention audiences from Maine to Hawaii.
My goal has always been to teach my audiences more about this remarkable man. And because the best teachers are also entertaining, I’ve become something of an entertainer, as well. I make him interesting, practical and relevant to today’s audiences.
Thomas Jefferson now blogs! It is my latest effort to bring his leadership and wisdom to a wider audience. Thrice weekly, he posts on a variety of topics, from leadership and politics to earthquakes and mockingbirds.
Each post begins with Jefferson’s own words, drawn from his extensive correspondence. Most posts are serious comments about serious topics. A few are light-hearted. Once in a great while, he displays a wry sense of humor. I add an explanation to each post, providing background and context.
Jefferson was a passionate, life-long advocate for public education. One of the three great accomplishments of his life as recorded on his tombstone was his founding of the University of Virginia.
As a young man, Jefferson wrote, “Preach a crusade against ignorance; establish and improve the law for educating the common people.” (Jefferson Cyclopedia, edited by Foley, #2392) As an old man, he wrote, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” (Ibid, #2391)
Blogging as Jefferson, my hope is to advance the cause of an educated public. See for yourself here.
By Patrick Lee