Winds of Change: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900
Social Studies, Grades K–3
Students will use primary source video to analyze the effects of the 1900 hurricane on Galveston Island. Students will use their geography skills to identify Havana, Cuba and Galveston, TX and discuss why information about the storm was not shared between the two locations at the time. Additionally, student will read accounts from various books, including historical fiction, about the Galveston Hurricane, the biggest natural disaster in American history. Students will work in literary circles to draw parallels between the moving images and the written descriptions of the event.
Students should know that Galveston is a city in Texas, and through the course of this lesson, they will learn it is on the Gulf Coast.
Students should know that a hurricane is a natural disaster that begins over water, moves to land, and then dissipates.
Students should be aware of the devastating impact of some natural disasters.
Display a map of Texas for the class. Ask if anyone can locate your city.
Once your city has been found, ask if anyone knows where Galveston is. Have a student (or yourself) point to Galveston on the map.
Discuss the fact that Galveston is an island with water on all sides of it. Ask students what some advantages are to living on an island (possible answers: fishing, trade, protection). Ask students what they think might be some disadvantages to living on an island (possible answers: how people get to mainland, storms being dangerous, etc.).
Explain that Galveston was a large city about 100 years ago but was devastated by a hurricane because the people of the city did not know it was coming. Today we use technology to predict and communicate hurricanes, but in 1900, we did not have that ability.
Tell students that today they are going to watch a film from more than 100 years ago that shows the destruction of a hurricane.
Ask if anyone can name a natural disaster. Write students’ responses on the board and make sure you list a variety of them.
Using a map or globe, ask students to identify where many of these natural disasters occur, from tornadoes in the Midwest and earthquakes along fault lines to hurricanes on the gulf coasts, etc.
Ask students if they can name any recent natural disasters and discuss when and where they occurred.
Watch the film, Panorama of East Galveston (see Videos). This film illustrates the significant damage wrought by the hurricane that struck Galveston on September 8, 1900.
- How does this film look different from the images you see on your TV at home?
Black and white, blurry images, jumpy images
- Why does this look different from the images we watch?
This was filmed when moving images were first invented and had not been perfected.
Explain to students that the reason the hurricane was so destructive is because no one knew it was coming. Ask students:
- How do we know a hurricane is coming today?
Weather experts have technology to track the hurricane. Just like the images of the video aren’t perfect, communication wasn’t perfect back then either. There were no telephones or computers for countries to tell one another about the hurricane.
- How do people get ready when a hurricane is coming?
Provide students with a map of the Texas coast. Have students locate and label Galveston again. If your town is on the coast, have students locate their hometown also.
Explain that the Hurricane came from the east and passed by a country called Cuba. Have students label Cuba, and trace the path of the Hurricane by drawing it in.
Have students draw the towns of Galveston and Havana to show how unconnected they were in communicating about the hurricane.
2nd and 3rd grade differentiation:
Have students scale the map to show the true distance between Galveston and Cuba
Read segments of Isaac’s Storm, The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J.T. King, Galveston, Texas, 1900 or Dark Water Rising to the students and have them pretend they were in Galveston the day of the hurricane. Ask them to write (or draw a picture) about what they would have seen, felt, heard, and experienced.
For 2nd and 3rd grade, have student work in small groups of four or five and read segments out of The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J.T. King, Galveston, Texas, 1900 by Lisa Waller Rogers. Have students discuss how the book describes the period before, during and after the storm.
Compare and contrast the book’s description of the event with the moving images of Galveston shot in 1900 after the storm destroyed the city.
Ask students to also compare and contrast the footage of the Galveston Hurricane with today’s news coverage of natural disasters.
Research Thomas Edison and his contribution to moving images. The Galveston Hurricane was one of the first major events in America to be filmed and viewed by a wide audience.
Ask students to discuss the similarities or parallels of the book’s description of the event and the moving image’s portrayal of the Galveston Hurricane. Remind students that today we have better technology and communication that enables us to prepare for hurricanes, but we should still take caution because hurricanes are a powerful force of nature. Today, with the use of Internet and phones, we can easily communicate between countries to warn about oncoming storms.
Weather Wiz Kids, http://www.weatherwizkids.com/hurricane1.htm
Canadian Hurricane Center, https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/hurricane-forecasts-facts/learn.html
Hale, Marian. Dark Water Rising, MacMillan: New York, 2010.
Larson, Erik. Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. Random House: New York, 1999.
Rogers, Lisa Waller. The Great Storm: The Hurricane Diary of J.T. King, Galveston, Texas, 1900. Texas Tech University Press, 2010.
Exhibit from Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library, https://rosenberg-library.org/special-collections/the-1900-storm-a-slideshow/
Galveston 1900: Storm of the Century, the Portal to Texas History, https://education.texashistory.unt.edu/lessons/psa/Galveston1900/