By Cary Shuman
Judith Marshall admits that she didn’t know much about Lynn’s past when she was studying medieval history and the 18th century at McGill University in Montreal, an elite institution that many up north call the “Harvard of Canada.”
A native of Ottawa, Canada, Marshall is the education and research specialist at the Lynn Museum that has surged in popularity under the leadership of Executive Director Drew Russo.
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts/Boston with a Master’s in History in December, 2015, Marshall began working at the Lynn Museum as an Education Fellow, helping Nicole Breault with projects and creating exhibits. She succeeded Breault, who is now pursuing her doctorate at UConn, as education and research specialist in July, 2016.
“When I first came to the U.S., I didn’t know that much about American history because we learned about it from the Canadian point of view,” said the 26-year-old Marshall. “I didn’t know anything about Lynn history until I started working here.”
And it’s been a total immersion over the past 18 months that has transformed Marshall in to a bonafide Lynn historian.
“It was a lot of learning on the job by doing the research for new exhibits and developing certain tours – that’s when I started falling in love with Lynn history,” she said. “I came in knowing nothing about Lynn and the city has such a rich and vibrant history.”
Marshall, working in collaboration with Russo, has reached out to Lynn students in a major way. She said the students have enjoyed their visits to the museum and have an authentic thirst for knowing about their city’s past.
“If you engage high school students in discussions about history, they have a lot to say and I always learn a lot when they come to the museum,” said Marshall.
The Lynn Museum’s major educational program is geared toward Lynn’s third-grade students.
“It’s a multi-visit program that we now call ‘The Lynn Museum History Detectives,” said Marshall. “The program started two years ago and I was brought on to help develop the curriculum and visit the classrooms.”
This year Marshall hopes to expand the program to six Lynn schools.
“We go in to the classroom first to introduce third graders to the Lynn Museum. We tell them what museums do and what artifacts we have and the way to examine artifacts to learn about history. Each student receive a Lynn Museum workbook that explains the history of Lynn in a fun and engaging way.”
The next phase of the program consists of students visiting the museum and viewing exhibits such as “the 10-footer in the courtyard which they have learned was a shoe workshop where people made shoes by hand there.”
“The students come to the Museum with confidence and a lot of energy and enthusiasm, because they already know what they’re going to learn about,” said Marshall.
Each student also visits four stations where they learn about industry (such as General Electric) and crafts, architecture, Lynn geography, and Lynn artifacts, getting a “hands-on” opportunity to touch items associated with the city’s history.
Russo said Marshall is making an impact with Lynn students and the community-at-large.
“Judith has been such a fantastic addition to the museum staff,” said Russo. “She brings so much intelligence and energy. She’s always willing to tackle new program ideas. She’s built up the public school program and I always enjoy going in to classrooms and watching how she interacts with the students. She’s just so accessible and approachable to them that I think it really builds up a sense of excitement about coming to the Lynn Museum and experiencing our local history. Hopefully, their experience here keeps them wanting to come back to the museum. It’s not just a history museum, it’s their museum, and there are few better ambassadors for that vision than Judith.”
Marshall said Lynn’s history in many ways mirrors U.S. history.
“A lot of the history of Lynn, you could say, is the history of America because you have an agricultural town developing in to an industrial city,” said Marshall. “And then with industry starting to leave and moving overseas, you have Lynn trying to redefine itself – it’s a city with immigrants from all over the world and people from all over the country moving here. Now it’s such a rich, diverse city with a great arts and cultural scene.”
Specifically, Marshall is very interested in the history of medicine.
“So I was just so enthralled with figures like Lydia Pinkham. When I started researching her life, I thought she was so fascinating because she was a woman in the 19th century and of course, she wasn’t expected to be entrepreneur – but necessity really pushed her in to that field. [Pinkham] was making medicine and giving it away for free but when her husband lost all his money in one of the financial disasters of the late 19th century, she started her own company and it’s still around today with products being produced in Latin American countries. She is a truly a fascinating figure in American history.”
Marshall said her research of Lynn history has extended to the sports scene and legendary Lynn Classical athlete Harry Agganis, to social movements and music and the Hutchinson family singers, and to the abolitionist cause and well-known author and orator Frederick Douglas.
One part of Lynn’s nostalgia that Marshall has crossed in to his “Marshmallow Fluff” and the debate over its invention.
“We kind of have a rivalry with Somerville over Fluff,” said Marshall, who lives in Somerville with her husband, Andrew Chin of Charlton, who is also a McGill graduate. “Marshmallow Fluff was invented in Somerville by Archibald Query – however, in the 1920s he sold the recipe to two men from Swampscott, Durkee and Mower, and from then on it was being sold and made right here in Lynn. It was sold door to door and then they moved to East Lynn and set up their factory. And they’ve been making Fluff ever since.”