Staff Spotlight: Programs Intern, Lydia Miller
Welcome Programs intern Lydia Miller to the President Lincoln’s Cottage team for the summer! Throughout the next few months Lydia will be helping to support the Programs department — she’s excited to roll up her sleeves and dive into the Students Opposing Slavery 2017 International Summit coming up next week — and getting a taste for working at a historic house museum. We sat down with Lydia to discuss her specific responsibilities, her background, and how she just really adores Tad Lincoln.
When you originally took a tour of the Cottage, what was your first impression?
It was great, it was different from anything else I had experienced before, because President Lincoln’s Cottage is different. In a good way. In a very good way. I came into it knowing to not expect a lot of furniture, since my uncle, who’s involved with the Cottage, explained that aspect to me. The MPA (Museum Program Associate) also mentioned it before the tour started. She explained: there’s not going to be that much furniture, it’s more of a museum of ideas. It was brought to life during the first tour I took. I’ve taken multiple tours, with different groups of visitors and different tour guides. With a group of older visitors, it was more conversation based, and then a tour with Lincoln’s Hat (our elementary program), which is so fun. And [the younger students] have so many questions and ask things that maybe adults wouldn’t notice. Like, “Why is George Washington’s portrait on the wall?” I didn’t even notice that the first time I visited.
So, nine days under your belt as the Programs intern. What have you learned? Is there anything that has surprised you?
I’ve learned something new about Lincoln every day. I didn’t think that was possible, there’s only a finite amount of information you can know about a famous historical person, but getting to work with people in different departments, you realize everyone brings something different. Michelle [Martz, Programs Coordinator] knows so much about one thing, Callie [Hawkins, Associate Director for Programs] know so much about another thing, Jamie [Cooper, Museum Store Coordinator] knows so much about…
Yes, everything. Specifically about how the Cottage carries on Lincoln’s legacy, particularly the continuing of ending human trafficking and modern slavery. Everything the Cottage does is as a home for brave ideas, especially in the students I see that come through.
You said that you’re a history and humanities major at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. What type of history are you studying?
I’ve taken many history classes, but the area I’ve focused on is World War Two to the present. I have grown to have an appreciation about Civil War America though since I started here. I am taking a course on the Civil War South next semester, so I think I’ll be pretty prepared for it.
What attracted you to study history in the first place?
I started college as an English major, but I ended up in the required general education history class and I really liked it. So I took another one, and then another one, and just haven’t stopped. History is what I get really excited about, it’s what I’m passionate about.
Well you’re in good company here. Eventually, what would you like to do once you graduate?
Being surrounded by museum professionals every day at the Cottage makes me think that this is something I’d like to be involved in. Specifically museum education, and museum programs; what a museum does is incredibly relevant and being able to relate what’s going on today to what happened back in history, that’s exciting.
Explain your responsibilities as the Programs intern?
Along with typical intern work – helping out wherever needed, making spreadsheets of evaluations and surveys, organizing storage, and putting together teacher packets – I have gotten the opportunity to shadow some of the education programs and see how the Brave Ideas are taught to even the youngest of visitors. I will also be hands-on with the Students Opposing Slavery International Summit next week, documenting the activities and speakers, and helping Callie and Michelle with anything they might need. For the second session of Teacher Fellows, I’ll be attending all of the events with Callie and the visiting teachers, immersing myself in Civil War history beyond Lincoln. I have also gotten to spend time with Jamie in the store, and learn about how even the museum store carries out the mission of the Cottage. Every day is something new, which I love.
What’s one of the coolest, or most interesting things you’ve learned about Abraham Lincoln since you’ve been here?
Some of my favorite things I’ve learned is about Tad A) that he had a pet goat. The fact that “cool dad Lincoln” even let him have a goat is just so fun. And B) that the Union soldiers were willing to spend time with him and gave him a rank. I think that’s adorable and it makes history fun. Families often like that story and get excited when they hear that. I also like the humanity that is brought to [Lincoln] here. I think a lot of museums, and it’s not always negative, but they often put presidents and great historical men on a pedestal. But they’re all inherently human and inherently flawed. And I think the idea that a president has to be perfect is way too ingrained in how we think.
What’s a fun fact about you? What do you do for fun?
I spent the last semester in London. My friends didn’t have the same schedule as me, and we were right by the British Museum, so I would go by myself a lot. And now I don’t really like going to museums with other people, I got so used to going at my own pace. I’m like “you do you, and I’ll meet you later.” I love all the markets in London, especially the Christmas markets. Why are markets not more of a thing here?
Alright, so I ask every staff member or intern this question. Give me your pitch: why should someone visit President Lincoln’s Cottage?
It’s a unique experience: you’re surrounded by history you don’t get anywhere else in DC. Because there’s no ropes, no “stuff” to distract you, you’re focused on the story and the feeling of the house.
Lydia will be on board with the Cottage until mid July. You can spot Lydia – sometimes in a flamingo dress – shadowing the Programs department, helping with the SOS summit, or working diligently at the tiny desk in the middle office. Stop by and say hello, tell her your favorite Tad Lincoln story, or talk to her about true crime podcasts.