Growing up in Williamsburg, Va., Suzy Lee, ’13, embraced the history present on every street corner. She first joined the living history museum at age 10 as a volunteer at Carter’s Grove, a 750-acre plantation that was then part of Colonial Williamsburg. As the summers ticked by, a child volunteer turned to a junior performer in evening programs, then to a historic interpreter.
Lee’s decision to major in history at the University of Richmond was anything but surprising. And when the recent graduate decided to take a year off before entering law school, she knew she wanted to return for another year of re-enacting colonial life.
At a glance, she says the job looks easy. She checks tickets at the exhibitions, gives directions, and answers occasional questions. Look closer, though, and one might begin to notice that she’s also helping children completing a scavenger hunt of the city while explaining the differences between a blacksmith and a silversmith and pointing out the details of colonial architecture.
Even a conversation about the job is peppered with facts she’s picked up over the years through both formal training and a natural curiosity.
A cooper, you might wonder, makes round wooden things, like barrels and washtubs.
The city became the capital [of the Colony of Virginia] in 1699. It was Middle Plantation before then.
Millinery, it comes from milla, the root word of a thousand. Because a millinery doesn’t just make hats. They make thousands of things, like caps and stockings and breeches and waistcoats.
The job also is an outlet for one of her other interests — performing. “Even though I’m not a specific person, I am performing,” she says. “I talk as if I’m from the past. If someone says, ‘Where’s the bus stop?’ I wouldn’t say, ‘The bus stop is this way.’ I’d say, ‘What you seek is down that way.’”
While some of her family members encouraged her to go straight to law school, Lee argues that a year spent memorizing facts and interacting with a wide variety of people is good experience for the field. In fact, Lee was accepted to the class of 2017 at the University of Virginia School of Law and the line on her résumé already proved useful during the application process.
“For on-campus interviews, once you have the grades and you have law review, they want to talk about your résumé,” Lee says. “They’ve seen plenty of legal assistants, but they probably haven’t seen that many historic interpreters. They asked me, ‘Did you dress up? What did you do? What did you talk about?’ So it’s a cool talking point.”