Sparkle Schoolhouse
FIFTY Study Page: Rhode Island— "The Cohan Family Mirth Makers"

FIFTY Study Page: Rhode Island— "The Cohan Family Mirth Makers"

FIFTY: Rhode Island–  "The Cohan Family Mirth Makers"

*Each story in the FIFTY collection focuses on a remarkable American from a different state. Below are some recommended topics to inspire further investigation of the history and geography of the state, as well as themes that can support our children's growth and development. *

The story of George M. Cohen tends to focus on the ambition, drive and dedication of the young actor, director and producer - but his family’s start in Providence, Rhode Island holds a special place in the history of American entertainment. His father, Jerry Cohan was born in Ireland and emigrated to Boston to become a harness maker. It wasn’t long before he took a risk and focused all his efforts on joining the burgeoning world of vaudeville entertainment. He met his wife and the two of them started a family act that would become popular in all of New England.

*Note: Though this is historical fiction and the characters have been developed to accommodate a story, their attributes and development may be useful as reference points and inspirations. *

Rhode Island History

  • History of American Theater and Vaudeville
  • Biography of George M Cohen

Rhode Island Geography

  • Map of New England and New York City to show a possible “tour” of the Cohen Family Mirth Makers
  • A Map of Broadway

“The Cohan Family Mirth Makers” Study Topics - A study of the kinds of acts in Vaudeville - Study of all of George M Cohen’s musicals

Topics for Reflection

From a Child Development Perspective:

In this story, your child might learn that:

  • Some people have a gift for bringing joy to others — it is their service to the world. What would we do without the people who make us laugh? For Jerry Cohan, making people laugh was his calling. It was his work; it was what he was born to do.

  • Finding joy has nothing to do with having money. While having resources does give us some level of comfort, but it is not our source of true happiness and joy. Jerry Cohan was very poor when he was a boy, but he was very happy. He was happy because he lived in a family where there was song and laughter, and this was what he loved most in the world—to smile and make others smile.

  • We have to follow our own heart. Some people might compromise following their true passion for having more material comfort. For some, this doing so still leaves plenty of room to experience joy and purpose in life, but for others in working in a job because of the wages, they give up a part of themselves to.We know when the compromises we are making are too great. Jerry noticed that his family had stop singing and telling jokes when they owned the saddle and harness shop in South Boston. Their days and nights of song and dance were no longer. He longed for the days to bring the joy back into his life and into the life of his family.

  • When we take risks, even big ones, we may be surprised to see how life often supports us. Jerry left Boston and settled in Providence, Rhode Island. This was a big risk! He was giving up his security and taking a gamble on his and his family’s future. He went there because his sister lived there, and that was the support he needed. She told him about vaudeville. And he became a Vaudeville performer. When he was performing in his first show, he met his future wife, Nelly. She stepped to perform with Jerry, when his leading lady didn't show up one night. Little did they both know that she would in time become a star performer, as well! All of these events occurred in ways that Jerry never could have predicted, or even orchestrated. He took a risk, and he was supported, without even knowing how!

  • An invaluable gift we can give our children is to let them become who they were meant to become. While our children may follow in our footsteps, having been influenced by our guidance and choices, most times they will tread upon new territory as they explore their own futures. Jerry and Ellie's daughter, Josie, was able to perform with the Cohan Family Mirth Makers, but little George, he was different, and was destined to develop his talents in unique ways. Because Jerry cut him free and let him find his way, George found success when he might otherwise not have.

  • When we don't know how to articulate what we need, it often shows up in our behavior. It is important when we see obstinate behavior in our children, for example, to question if there is something going on another level that is motivating this behavior. George knew that he wanted to stay in the family business-show business-but somehow intuitively he knew that being a song and dance man was not the right fit for him. He was at heart a writer, but he was too young to know this, and so his rebellious behavior spoke with his words could not.

  • There are many ways to find one’s path to happiness. When Jerry Cohan was younger, his happiness was to be found singing and dancing with his family, even though they were poor. He was also happy in his older years, and yet it had nothing to do with no longer being poor. Jerry continued to do what he always wanted to do, to make people smile, but he also had a satisfaction knowing that his children were doing what they also always wanted to do. The joy he gave to others was the same joy given back to him!

About the Authors

David Sewell McCann

Story Spinner

David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.

Meredith Markow

Sparkle Schoolhouse Head of School

Meredith has been working with adults and children of all ages for the past 25 years as a Waldorf Teacher and Educational Consultant. She received a B.A. with a focus on child development and child psychology from the University of Michigan, in 1984, an M.A. Ed from Washington University in 1987, and her Waldorf Teaching Certificate from the Lehrerausbildung (Teacher Training) in Nurnberg, Germany in 1989. She was certified as a Living Inquiries Facilitator in 2014, and she completed her formal teaching certification with The Enneagram Institute in 2014. Her work in the classroom and with individuals and groups is designed to help people of all ages to drop self-limiting beliefs to live a more joyful and compassionate life.

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