The 2023 theme for Connecticut History Day, “Frontiers in History,” often brings to mind exploration and discovery of new places—usually far from Connecticut and the “Land of Steady Habits.” Connecticut, however, has a history rich with stories of pioneers who continually crossed new boundaries and redefined frontiers—through ideas, exploration, and action.
Frontiers in Connecticut’s History
While Europeans considered much of North America to be an unmanaged frontier, Indigenous peoples lived in (what is now) Connecticut for hundreds of years before European settlement. Connecticut’s colonial charter vaguely extended its borders to the western frontier; as land became increasingly scarce in Connecticut after the American Revolution, residents looked to the west. While Connecticut residents resettled in various locations, many were drawn to Connecticut-claimed lands on the Western Reserve and in the Susquehanna to build new lives and towns. Westward migration, however, was rife with hardship and conflict between settlers and the tribal nations they displaced.
Frontiers can be places that have yet to be explored. Stonington’s Nathaniel Palmer was one of the first people to discover the mainland of Antarctica. Later in the 19th century, Connecticut’s innovations in flight, including Charles Ritchel and his first controlled flight of a dirigible in America, opened the skies and pushed the vertical space frontier.
Ideas as Frontiers
Frontiers do not only have to be physical places—they can also be new ideas or concepts. Consider one of Connecticut’s nicknames, the Constitution State, which is based on the assertion that the Connecticut Colony’s Fundamental Orders were the world’s first democratic constitution. Over a century later, Connecticut’s Oliver Ellsworth, Roger Sherman, William Samuel Johnson, and others signed the United States Constitution—partaking in a new frontier in self-government. Throughout the ensuing decades, as an extension of the democratic process, Connecticut is also the origin of landmark court cases that created crucial legal precedents, such as Griswold v. Connecticut which was the first to establish a constitutional right to privacy.
In addition to ideas, new innovations and inventions constantly redefine frontiers and what is possible. Connecticut boasts numerous groundbreaking patents—many products and processes that changed various industries and ways of life.
Connecticut Individuals as Pioneers
As they opened new doors or challenged existing ideas, many Connecticut individuals have been pioneers in numerous fields. When Prudence Crandall refused to deny Black girls equal education at her boarding school, she became a pioneer in desegregated education. Years later, Edward Alexander Bouchet was the first African American to earn a PhD from an American university when he completed his dissertation in physics in 1876. In the medical field, Dr. Eli Todd was the first director of the Hartford Retreat for the Insane and was a pioneer in the treatment of the mentally ill. During the 20th century, Ann Petry (the first African American woman to sell one million copies of a novel) and Maurice Sendak (author who redefined children’s literature) were both literary pioneers.
So whether you choose to focus on physical frontiers, new ideas, or exploration, Connecticut’s history provides numerous examples of stories to help you in your search for a local topic that addresses the varied aspects of “Frontiers in History.”
We designed this Connecticut History Day page to help you find the perfect topic and connect you to the sources you need to get your project started. We will add new items and links as we get them, so be sure to check back often. In addition, if you have any questions, we’re here, just ask. Happy exploring!