By Jamie Johnson
January 24, 2019
If you have been on social media in the last six months, chances are you have seen “A Tour of Her Own”, #tohodc, in your feed. Company founder and CMG Candidate Kaitlin Calogera made it her mission to elevate women’s stories into a more prominent place in American history and culture. Her latest project is a collaborative effort with fellow guides, members of the Washington area tourism community, researchers, and involved participants. The aim is to create a sustainable culture for women’s tourism.
In November, “A Tour of Her Own”, TOHO, hosted its inaugural event. Calogera’s team of eight guides and collaborators offered a combination of women’s history walking tours, yoga on the mall, a self-defense course, interval training, and hosted a motivational speaker. TOHO guides passionately deliver tours that are “approachable, relatable, and transformative”. I was one of the 70 participants who registered for 100 available sessions in November. In December, I sat down with Kaitlin to better understand her inspiration.
Kaitlin, from Old Bridge, New Jersey, joined the Guild in 2015. As a new guide, she observed what she called “a noticeable gap” between the commentary she was delivering, and the traditional venues scheduled on standard itineraries. A Tour of Her Own Kaitlin expounded: “What we are trying to do is reconstruct the narrative; which we feel is incomplete. There are gaps and we are filling them in with women’s stories not initially included, or perhaps they are there and just don't get the visibility that they deserve. What we're trying to do is include it in the verbal commentary and showcase it right here in DC so that it becomes part of our everyday content.”
I asked what seemed to be the obvious question: how could elevating the stories of women change how someone views American History? She responded thoughtfully. “I want to use the word change kind of cautiously because we're not trying to come in here and say everything you learned is a lie, and women's history is the only thing. We as guides just want to tell the complete American story”
I pressed further about her tackling of politics on tour, Kaitlin snapped back with a firm, from-the-gut response. “I personally would argue that much of our commentary is political whether we want to acknowledge it or not. Avoiding current topics or politics doesn't necessarily mean that we're not taking a stance or having bias. A lot of the time, leaving stories out, of women for instance, of people of color, of natives, the LGBTQ community: leaving these stories out is political. And that needs to be said because, that is where we are moving as a country. That is what young people are going to be expecting when they learn about history.”
The TOHO team includes five Guild members with diverse interests varying from CMG Candidate Cheryl Hennessy’s “I Spy: Women Who Spied for Their Country”, to Guild Guide Ella Schiralli’s “Women on Stage: Raising the Curtain on The Washington Theatre Scene.” The collaborative structure of TOHO plays to the individual strengths of the team members and allows them to pursue topics that they each find personally compelling.
Guild Guide and 2018 Ginny Moser Award runner up Meghan Hanson found a twist all her own with “Department Stores: A Feminine Oasis”. Her tour dives into the social, economic, and political freedom women enjoy free from the male dominated world. I spoke with Guild Certified Guide and Library of Congress docent, Amy Mierley. Amy created the women’s history walking tour: “Leading Ladies.” Mierley, almost explodes in a burst of energy when she talks about her experience with TOHO. “Kaitlin had an incredible vision for telling these stories and she was able to present it, and it was so inspiring! It was “Hey we haven’t told these stories!” She was such a motivator! She is such a cheerleader for her cause, for this cause!” Amy’s tour of Capitol Hill, “Leading Ladies: Suffragists, Supremes and In-Betweens, The Women Who Climbed Capitol Hill” clearly draws upon Amy’s creativity and interests, and allows her the space to explore the lives of the first woman Librarian of Congress, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Ida B. Wells all in one tour!
New Guild Guide Ella Schiralli told me “TOHO is a wonderful way to connect to the rich history of women's contributions in the Federal City. We hear and 'see' a “Kaitlin had an incredible vision for telling these stories…” Team Building: January 2019 Page 4 large number of images of our founding fathers, but we don't learn very much about our founding mothers! That's where TOHO takes the lead. It is great to hear the stories and make the connections between women's leadership and our nation's history. The ‘herstory’ is indeed rich and I'm looking forward to uncovering women's contributions to the regional theatre community.” To further fulfill her mission, Kaitlin is working to amplify the message of organizations who spotlight the contributions of women like the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA) and the BelmontPaul Women’s Equality National Monument. “We are trying to really reach out to that community and build something kind of greater than ourselves. We encourage visitors to go see these sites”.
Mierley reflected on how it felt to be part of TOHO. “I felt like I was talking about my people! I felt like I was representing! Their stories could be your story, or my story. Being a female, at some point we all have had to step forward and to say, “this isn’t right”. I’m not saying these stories are more important than those of men. I’m just saying that they need to be told too.” The next TOHO event is February 2, 2019.