FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Junior County Historian Essay Contest has returned, and with it comes several changes.

For nearly 30 years, local third and fourth grade students researched and wrote about the “Most Historic Place in My Town.” Students borrowed books from the library, reviewed articles, and visited historical societies as part of their background research for their essays.

After the 2017-2018 school year, the contest’s sponsor – the Hunterdon County Cultural & Heritage Commission – decided to put the program on hiatus for a year while a review was undertaken.

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The group decided that the program needed to be updated to meet current educational needs. The Commission collaborated with Hunterdon third and fourth grade teachers to create a contest to fit into existing curriculum.

The result is this year’s “Making Your Voice Heard!” Junior County Historian Essay Contest.

Next year marks 100 years since the U.S. granted women the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment, and the Commission believes there is no better time to have discussions on why it is important to vote.

In this contest, students will explore the contributions that two New Jersey natives made to the democratic process. Thomas Mundy Peterson, who was the first African American to exercise his right to vote under the 15th Amendment, and Alice Paul, who led protests for women’s suffrage at the national level, will be highlighted.

The nation’s complicated history of voting and voting rights will also be explored. For example, in New Jersey, some women and African Americans  could vote between 1776 and 1807. Ultimately politics prevailed and, in a move to align itself with neighboring states, New Jersey restricted voting to white male citizens.

Students will be asked to reflect on the history of voting, and also look forward and consider its future. What will the next 100 years of voting look like? How can the process be made fair for everyone? Those are questions for essay contest participants to answer. Students are encouraged to be creative, think big, and challenge convention as they develop their own proposals. 

“My students have been participating in this educational essay contest since 1995,” said Lynn Hughes, a longtime participant in the Essay Contest said. “This year it has a fresh new look, yet retains the important research quality. Students are challenged to explore a current topic, complete independent research, and form an opinion to present in essay format.”

All Hunterdon County third and fourth grade students studying local history are eligible and encouraged to participate. All area teachers have been sent a copy of the program guidelines, which can also be downloaded from the Cultural & Heritage Commission’s website. Entries will be judged by retired classroom teachers and winners will be invited to a Hunterdon Freeholder meeting next year to receive their awards and recognition.