Staff Spotlight: Callie Hawkins

For those who don’t already know, Callie Hawkins is the secret force behind the Programs Department. This month we interviewed the Assistant Director for Programs, who has been on board for eight years, to find out more about her role at the Cottage (or rather, what doesn’t she do). We caught her quoting Mary Lincoln, cursing ketchup (“it just freaks me out”), explaining what to do if your 17th century straw hat catches fire, and professing her love for Kristi Yamaguchi. Oh, and she’s too humble to mention this, but 2016 was a big year: she met His Holiness the Dalai Lama and former Secretary of State John Kerry, but you won’t find her bragging. Read the full interview below:

In your own words, summarize your role here at the Cottage?

As the Associate Director for Programs, I manage our interpretation, education programs, exhibits, retail operations and public programs — essentially most of the activity that makes up the visitor experience.

Where can we find you on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon?

In the car. I have a long commute, so I use that time in the car to catch up on my reading (or listening, if we’re getting technical) and to talk to friends and family.

What’s your other professional experience and background? How has it helped you in your role at the Cottage?

After graduate school at William and Mary, I stayed in Williamsburg for nearly seven years. My first job there was at Jamestown Settlement on their 17th century tall ships. I wore a costume, interpreted the English colonists’ journey to the New World, and fired 17th century artillery. It was an incredible experience for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it was my first real training in historical interpretation. I had the opportunity to work with families and students and experienced first-hand the value of engaging people in dialogue and asking questions that lead to personal discovery. From there, I moved into Jamestown’s education department and supervised a team of guides who worked with the site’s thousands of school children. That experience taught me a lot about flexibility, the importance of a sense of humor, and redirection — all vital when working with young people. While living in Williamsburg, I also worked for Colonial Williamsburg’s Teacher Institute. I’ve always admired teachers, but before working with the Teacher Institute, I didn’t fully appreciate how excited teachers were to be students and how readily they embraced opportunities to continue their own learning. I think of that often in my position and when developing teacher trainings, but that experience also has inspired me to relish opportunities for my own professional development.

My career has spanned 400 years of history at institutions large and small, and I’ve learned a lot, but perhaps the most helpful thing I’ve learned is how to put out a flame when an ember from your matchlock musket catches your straw hat on fire. I think it’s safe to say, I literally wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t learned that.

What originally drew you to Museums/Museum Studies?

I always enjoyed visiting museums, but it wasn’t until fairly late in college that it occurred to me that you could do that as a job. In my senior year, I took an interdisciplinary course that looked at the importance of “place” through theater, music, architecture, and literature. I was hooked on the interdisciplinary aspect of that class and chose a graduate program — American Studies — with a similar approach and in a place that provided the opportunity to apply what I was learning in a museum setting. It was a perfect combination for me.

What’s your proudest moment so far while working at the Cottage?

It’s hard to pick a singular moment, so I’ll take the easy way out and say that each moment here makes me proud. I have never so fervently believed in a mission and a group of people entrusted to carry out that mission than I do in the Cottage and this team. It’s an honor to work alongside such a talented group, and I’m so proud of the work we do here every day.

Down to brass tacks: Lincoln. What’s your favorite Lincoln fact, story, or quote? Basically, what do you like about the guy?

Toughest question yet. My favorite story has to be about the “Blind Memorandum.” When there was little hope for Lincoln’s re-election in 1864, he pledged his support to accept the results come November and work with the president-elect to save the Union. Lincoln wanted his cabinet to pledge to do the same, so he wrote this down on a piece of paper, folded it up so that no one knew what was inside, and asked his cabinet to sign their names to it, sight unseen. And, they did! That they had that much faith and trust in him is just remarkable to me. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past eight years cultivating a personal relationship with Lincoln, and I think the thing I’ve come to appreciate about him the most is that the more I get to “know” him, the more I realize he really is who I thought he was.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about Lincoln?

I think few people know that the Lincolns gave their own money to support the Contraband Relief Association which was started by Elizabeth Keckley to provide aid to African Americans who fled slavery. I have always found that a fascinating counterpoint to the idea that Lincoln wasn’t personally committed to ending slavery.

In one sentence, why should someone visit the Cottage?

I’ll borrow a line from Mary Lincoln: “The cause of humanity requires it” because Lincoln’s values of freedom, justice, and unity—all ideas he nurtured while living here—are as important today as they’ve ever been.

What’s an interesting fact about you?

I have never chewed gum. Or eaten ketchup. Ever.

What’s in your fridge? Just kidding, but seriously.

An endless supply of Cherry Coke Zero.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, besides Lincoln, who would it be?

I’ve wracked my brain, but I keep coming back to my family. Growing up, we always made it a point to eat dinner together no matter what. That was the one time we’d all stop and share the peaks and pits of our day. My family doesn’t live close so those opportunities are fewer and farther between now, but it’s a tradition I cherish and will continue with my own family.

Or, Kristi Yamaguchi, because I still have dreams of being an Olympic figure skater, and I think she’d have lots of wisdom to share.

To contact Callie Hawkins about Students Opposing Slavery, other public programs, or to ask her how she has avoided ketchup her entire life, email:

Callie & SOS participants with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Laureates and Leaders Summit for Children, India, December 2016

SOS participants, Callie Hawkins, Erin Mast, and Ambassador Susan Coppedge with the Presidential Award, October 2016


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