Frederick Douglass’ Hat is the introductory activity in series of lesson plans
using museum objects from Frederick Douglass’ home at Cedar Hill in Washington, D.C.  
This lesson demonstrates how objects can serve as primary sources for learning about an
individual, his society and the cultural values of the time.  By examining similar objects, a
contemporary straw hat and students’ hats, students will also learn the steps of object
analysis and active inquiry, observation and deduction.

After completing the activities in ‘Frederick Douglass’ Hat,’ students will be able to:
-Name six to eight categories for analyzing an object: physical description, materials,
maker/manufacturer, function, use, value and meaning at the time, modern equivalents and
-Demonstrate how to analyze one object based on these categories;
-Create a hypothesis based on their analysis about the use and significance of the objects
(the hat and the lithograph) in its historical context (Douglass’ life)


Social Studies: (Civic Values)
1.2 Students identify and describe, the symbols, icons, songs and traditions of the United States that exemplify cherished ideals and provide continuity and a sense of community across time.


Adler, David A. (1993). A Picture Book Of Frederick Douglas. New York, New York: Holiday House Publisher

Primary Sources
Panama Hat, Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, FRDO 2197
Lithograph: Frederick Douglas with Madam Hyppolite in Haiti wearing the Panama Hat
Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, FRDO 157 
Frederick Douglass recruits at Horticultural Hall On the Edge of Battle: July 14, 1863

Warm Up

Read A Picture Book Of Frederick Douglas by David A. Adler.  Have students bring in hats from home. Display hats worn during the civil war and have students try on different hats in small groups at stations. Do an object analysis of one of their own hats and one of the hats from the civil war period. Each station should have a question that each group can discuss while they are there; Who wears hats in your community?  What type of hats? Where are they worn?  How often? Select a specific hat and do an object analysis. Can you draw inferences about people and society of today from this analysis?  Return to the circle area and have the students complete a classroom compare/contrast chart demonstrating their analysis of their hat to the role, function, materials of the civil war time hats.

New Material

Use the materials listed below for this lesson plan.  All are locally available, and are ready
substitutes for the museum objects described in this lesson plan, or fill the same function.
Similar items.  
-A light, large-brimmed straw hat with a low crown.  Consider adding a dark ribbon to
approximate the band on Douglass’ hat.
-Object analysis question list
-Map of the world
-Chart paper
-Contemporary hats: ball caps and others


1. Inform the students that the class is starting a lesson on Frederick Douglass, using 
his objects; including real things, period photographs, and documents that Douglass actually owned, used, created, or had in his home at Cedar Hill in Washington, DC.  Their goal is to learn all they can about Douglass by closely examining these objects.  At the end of the lesson, they will assess the value of learning by analyzing different types of objects as primary sources.

2. Ask students what they know about Douglass.  Record their answers on the board or chart
paper.  Students may know that he was a former slave and abolitionist; if students are totally
unaware of Douglass’ background, give them these two descriptors.

3. Explain that the lesson will start with two objects that belonged to Douglass, and that you will
work together to see what you can learn from close examination of these objects. Separate the students into two groups and rotate so that they can view all of the objects.

4. Object #1: Douglass’ Panama Hat.  Bring out the similar broad-brimmed straw hat.  Do not
name it, but tell them that Douglass owned a very similar object and show the printout of
Douglass’ hat. 

Object #2: Douglass lithograph: 
Now show students the lithograph of Douglass in Haiti.  Ask them to describe everything they see.  Ask students the following questions: Is Douglass in the print? What is he wearing? Where is he?  Is he prosperous, successful?  How can you tell?  Who are the other people in the print?  Why are they dressed and positioned as shown?

5. Ask students to look carefully at the object. Let each student handle it, wear it, manipulate it. Then ask the following questions, recording all answers on chart paper or on the board. Remind students that for the purposes of this activity, there are “no wrong answers.”


-Assess each student on his/her active participation in analyzing the Panama hat and
lithograph and in comparing hats through history.
-Ask students to complete an “How to Read an Object” worksheet on the Douglass’ hat and
on his/her own hat to assess their understanding of the categories for object analysis.

Closure and Reflection

Tell the students to think about what they have learned so far about both Lincoln and Douglas. Ask them to consider the historic homes they visited, the artifacts that belonged to each man, and other information they have learned.

Did the students meet the objectives?
Did the students learn new information about Frederick Douglas?
What can I do to improve this lesson next time?