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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

Washington and Wheatley: A Lesson in Liberty

Description -

This lesson is intended to complement an American literature class unit on Revolutionary Rhetoric - selections from Thomas Jefferson (The Declaration of Independence), Patrick Henry (Speech to Virginia Convention), and Thomas Paine (The Crisis, Essay 1).  Its focal point is a poem by the Boston based black poet Phillis Wheatley - "To His Excellency, General Washington."  After reading Wheatley's poem, students explore a series of period artwork that "flesh out" her personified symbol of the rebellious colonies and subsequent nascent republic (the goddess Columbia) and the champion of liberty in the person of George Washington.  The intent of the lesson is to provide a rich nexus of visual elements, which illuminate the words of Wheatley and give shape to the shared experiences of artists seeking to craft and celebrate an American mythology - a patriotic pantheon if you will.

Learning Goals -

In exploring this lesson, students will

- reinforce literary conventions like personification and symbol through Wheatley's poem dedicated to Washington

- apply and reinforce their knowledge of US history, especially the Revolutionary era and the early years of the Republic

- appreciate how visual artists use personification and symbol to advance ideas of liberty during the late 18th and early 19th centuries

Extended Learning Activities -

- encourage students to seek out additional visual manifestations of Lady Liberty throughout US history.

- have students create their own image depicting today's America as a person.



Created By

Doug Atkins


English Language Arts

Grade Level


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