by ECW Correspondent Emily Losito
Although the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis has only been open for four years, Kristen Trout has been working there a lot longer. When she was younger, Trout helped her father out at the museum when it was still the historic site named the Jefferson Barracks 1905 Post Exchange Building.
“In 2002, my dad founded the Civil War museum,” she said. “I was just stuffing envelopes and helping as much as I could, and it sparked my interest even more.” She soon found not only a geographic connection to the war but a personal one, as well. “As I was learning about Missouri’s role in the war, I did some genealogy and found out that some of my ancestors were involved. Throughout high school, my love for history and the Civil War grew.”
Today, Trout now runs the day-to-day activities in the museum. She said she works behind the scenes, manages the staff, creates programs, and develops ideas for new ones.
“It takes a lot of research to build ideas. . . . From there, you start a conversation with people to come and speak here. Using brainstorming and connections is really important,” she said. “We make all of these contacts and use them to create programs to further the mission of the museum.”
Trout said it’s her job to make sure people walk into the museum, learn about Missouri’s role in the war, and walk away with new knowledge and stories they haven’t heard before.
“Some people can’t believe that all of this history is in their own backyard,” Trout said.
In 2010, Trout attended the Civil War Institute in Gettysburg on a scholarship. She said when she went there, she already knew she wanted to pursue history and go to Gettysburg College. Trout said the time she spent there helped her reach out to people, make connections, and use those skills and assets in her job today.
She attended the college for three and a half years, graduating early. “I got the chance to spend those years up there at one of my favorite battles,” Trout said. “It’s been amazing, and it got me going. Freshman year, I was an educational intern at Harper’s Ferry Historical Park. I got experience from working with youths and learned the ins and outs of public history and the interpretation and science behind it,” she said.
Trout used this knowledge and experience in the work she does today as a coordinator to create events and programs for the Missouri Civil War Museum. At the moment, Trout said she is the only paid female staff member.
“I kind of forget I’m a female talking about the Civil War. Some people are surprised to see a woman talking about it because it’s more of a ‘man thing,’ but there’s actually a lot of us out there,” she said. “I see young girls at the museum and think about what’s going through their mind while I’m talking. There was a Harper’s Ferry presentation on the Civil War, and a little girl came up and gave me a hug. She said, ‘I want to be just like you,’ and that’s when it clicked. I thought, ‘I may have changed this girl’s life by just being me,’” Trout said.
She added that whenever she sees a girl take an interest in the history, she spends some time talking to them even if they’re a little shy.
“It might not be a big deal to me, but for those girls trying to make sense of the world, it could make all the difference for them to think they can be what they want to be,” she said.
She added that anyone passing through St. Louis should stop by the museum. She said it’s worth coming to and there’s a plethora of hidden history.
“So many different people say something positive about the museum, and in the end it’s not about me, it’s about the museum and spreading knowledge. The young kids that come and say they love the Civil War and find it fascinating…it means so much,” she said.
The impact that the museum has on visitors is essential to preserving history and spreading knowledge. Trout said that Missouri and other lesser-known battlefields in the west should be paid more attention.
“It’s important that you make a connection to the history you read about in school to the world around you….It’s important that we remember the stories, the sacrifices of the soldiers and share them with people that continue to come back. It’s great that there are people out there that appreciate what you do and want to learn more,” Trout said. “We make sure that the story of sacrifice, bravery, points of view, political, social, and cultural aspects are all being discussed so we can save battlefields, manuscripts, and artifacts.”