Two Women Who Influenced My Love of History

As I think of women who influence and encouraged my love of history, two ladies particularly come to mind: my mom and Nancy M.

My mother wasn’t a fan of history. Or at least that’s what she always thought. But then—as she tells the story—she got blessed with a little girl who wanted books read to her all the time and then had big questions about history. Little House on the Prairie and Paul Revere’s Ride were my introductions to the concept that exciting things had happened long before I was born. Then, we progressed to age-appropriate textbooks followed by raiding the library book shelves and hauling off the treasures (after they were properly checked out, of course.)

Sarah and Mom at Manassas Battlefield, 2018.

As the years passed, my mom patiently listened to my explanations, book plots, and historical dilemmas. She is usually the first reader of my manuscripts for both fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes, she has come with me on research trips. (Yes, she climbed up and down Shirley’s Hill at New Market twice with me, doing “boots on the ground research” and the ECW gang and I dragged her out to Kelly’s Ford.) She has helped with and hosted booksignings. She believed I could start a history conference in Southern California and the previous years of running events with her taught me a lot of what I know about hospitality and planning. She taught me to make lists—something that has become a little infamous at ECW meetings and work sessions. She has pestered me about getting my PowerPoints finished on time and listened to my practice speeches. She got involved with living history with me, and we would lay in the dark tent and whisper-talk about the day and ideas to research.

Then…she had the courage and faith to let me go from home and pursue my dream of working in the history field and living in Virginia. That’s a long way from California to Virginia. I miss my mom a lot, but we talk every day, and sometimes I think she knows my research better than I do. I always ask, “do you have time?” and if she says yes, we start puzzling over the facts I’m piecing together for research projects. She almost always gets the first text when I make a new discovery!

In short, I would not be where I am today without my mom’s guidance and support. My dad and brothers are very supportive too, but my mom is the best listener and the one who probably knows the most about my research and writing. And that seems fitting. She gave me my first lessons in history, writing, and note-taking—homeschooling me from preschool through 12th grade, getting me ready for college classes and wherever the adventures led next.

Old Point Lighthouse at Cabrillo National Monument

Nancy M. is married to a retired National Park Service historian and ranger, and she is an amazing researcher and developer of authentic living history programs. We met when I was about ten at a living history event hosted at Cabrillo National Monument, and she laced me into an authentic 16th Century girl’s outfit, explaining each of the layers (I think it was about 7 layers of clothing?) and fostering my love of hands-on history. We were actually both on local television together in that teaching moment! Over the years, I continued to see Nancy M. and her husband when we would visit that national park and occasionally met at other living history events. She made the introductions which started my sewing classes for 1860’s women’s fashion when I was in my later teens.

Time and friendship can be challenging things. Nancy M. and I lost track of each other for a period of several years. I did not see her at history events and was concerned about her health. (At this point, we didn’t really have contact information for each other.) Then, a couple of weeks before the release of my first novel, we met at an event. We had a lot of catching up to do! It was in that conversation that the idea for writing a story about a family living at lighthouse was hatched.

Nancy M. mentored me in research techniques, historical sleuthing practices, citations, and how to do better research. She was incredibly gracious, generous, and kind with her time and advice. There was never a “short visit” when we would meet. Conversations always moved briskly, and I usually had to take notes to keep up. She is very caring, and while pressing me to do better, solid research, she has also had conversations with me about balancing life and work and other topics where I needed gentle advice. She always believed I would find a job in the history field, but encouraged me to pursue whatever honest work came my way.

When I think about the women I’ve met and worked with in the history field, I’m so grateful for their trailblazing and taking the time to teach and be friendly. My mom and Nancy M. certainly shaped my path as a researcher and historian, and I’m thankful for their love, willingness to listen and teach, and for believing that a girl with a passion for writing and finding the truth about the past can succeed in the history field.

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, editor, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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2 Responses to Two Women Who Influenced My Love of History

  1. Kevin R says:

    Excellent tribute Sarah. You increase my civil war knowledge so I am indebted to these ladies also.

  2. M. J. Waters says:

    My grandma Nancy was who introduced me to history. She loved it too, loved books and was a great story teller in her own right.

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