CARBONDALE — When 14-year-old Joan Huh picked a history fair topic last fall at Unity Point School, she knew what kind of person to research.

“I wanted to research a project about a woman who didn’t have an outgoing personality, but still stood up for what she believed in,” Huh said.

Her project, "Julia Lathrop: Kindness Never Wasted (a junior solo performance)," was one of more than 60 projects chosen to advance from Illinois History Day, the state history fair competition, to the National History Day contest, held June 10 to 14 at University of Maryland.

Huh said Lathrop had a reserved personality as a young girl, but had to develop confidence to advocate for causes like child and maternal health and mortality of babies and young children. Lathrop was so passionate about those causes that she became an activist and social reformer.

“During a depression [in the 1890s], everyone was in a crisis about money. She was more concerned about the welfare of children and didn’t care what others said,” Huh said.

Lathrop went on to become the first director of the U.S. Children’s Bureau in 1912 and was instrumental in passing the Shepherd-Towner Act, which provided health care for babies and pregnant women.

Huh started working on her history fair project in the fall, with a hope to do better than the year before. Her teacher, Charles Buss, thought she would do well in performance category of the competition.

“Mr. Buss is very supportive. He was the one who thought she would do well in skits,” her mom, Joanna Lee, said.

Huh worked on the project for months. Her first round of competition was at the regional history fair in March at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Lee said she did very well with her performance.

When the names of students moving on to Illinois History Day state competition were announced, Huh was not on the list. But, she received a call a short time later saying her name accidentally was omitted from the list. She was going to state.

On May 3, Joan competed with about 800 students from all over Illinois.

“My teacher couldn’t be with me, so my mom came. It was nerve wracking. I was all alone on stage, and I didn’t have that much confidence,” Huh said.

This time, when the names of more than 60 students advancing to nationals were read, Huh’s name was called. One week later, her teacher received word that Huh also had won the 2018 Judy Baar Topinka Women in Government Award.

“I thought going to nationals was it, but getting the award just blew my mind,” Joan said.

On Thursday afternoon, Huh was still editing and improving her script. After Illinois History Day, she decided her skit needed more depth, so she reread two of her books and tried to put in more content.

On Sunday, Huh, her mother and teacher leave for Washington, D.C. She is excited to see the Smithsonian Institute, African-American Museum, art museums and the White House. (She just received her clearance for the White House tour.)

“I’m so proud of where I’ve gotten. I just want to have a good time and enjoy my time there,” Huh said.

Joan believes if she goes into national competition like she did state competition — with a positive mindset and trying her best — she will get good results. Her first performance in national competition is Monday morning.

Carbondale Middle School students Carly Hertzog, Lily Bishop and Khadia Coulibaly will also peform their history fair project, a junior group performance entitled “Virginia Marmaduke: Writing Her Way into History” on Monday at National History Day competition. 

Fourteen skits in the competition will move on to National History Day finals later in the week. 

For more information about National History Day, visit www.nhd.org.

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