(This article is written by Gator Correspondent Evelyn Garcia)
In the paper, “The Tragedy of Railroad Laura: Mental Health and Old Age at the Turn of the Century,” author Alondra “July” Morillon explores the history of the woman known as “Railroad Laura” and her experience as an elderly person struggling with mental illness in early 20th century. A sophomore at UHD, Morillon was invited to present her research on this topic at the annual East Texas Historical Association Fall Conference in Galveston, Texas. She was part of a UHD’s University Honors Program panel “Dementia, Drag, and Death: Twentieth Century Texas Social History – A Project of the University of Houston-Downtown Honors Program.”
The conference proved to be more than just a learning opportunity. Morillon was awarded the Archie McDonald Scholarship in recognition of her presentation. Other Honors Program students who presented at this conference included Juan Leija and Aimee Garcia-Soto.
UHD News caught up with Morillon to talk about her experience writing the paper, future aspirations, and what she loves most about pursuing her degree at UHD.
What was the most challenging part about writing this paper?
The most difficult part was definitely the research because a lot of the information came from newspapers in the 1900s and late 1800s. Reading them and finding them was pretty hard. I didn’t know where to start. Should I start with the elderly? Should I start with what was classified as “mentally ill” back then, or should I start with mental illness today and how it’s recognized? I was pretty frazzled when I started.
Why were you looking forward to presenting this paper as part of a panel with UHD’s Honors Program?
I was looking forward to getting my name out there. That got me really excited. I was like “I have to do this!” I really want to leave my mark on the University and leave my mark in history in general, so I thought it would be pretty exciting.
Are you looking forward to presenting at a conference again in the future?
Definitely. I will probably present at the Gender Conference. I presented a revised fairy tale during my freshman year. I would definitely present at another ETHA Conference or any panel having to do with gender studies or history. I think mental illness is very interesting, mostly because I can relate to it. If I can relate to the subject, then I find myself wanting to write about it.
What led you to choose your major and minor at UHD?
I really value education, especially in history. I think it’s important for kids to grow up learning the right history, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes. I want to be a college professor or high school teacher focused on American history. I recently became a Supplemental Instruction Leader for an American history class, but I’m also interested in East Asian history and Russian history.
I wasn’t even thinking about gender studies until I took the fairy tale seminar class during my freshman year with Dr. Tammis Thomas. Honestly, that class changed my life. It was very engaging. I found myself agreeing with a lot of the topics she talked about—how society views women and men and the issues with masculinity and femininity. There was never a dull moment, so I found myself falling for that subject.
How has UHD helped you succeed?
I think UHD has definitely given me a lot of opportunities. I’m particularly grateful to Dr. Mari Nicholson-Preuss, the director of the Honors Program. If she sees that students are passionate about a subject she’ll push them to explore their interests. The people here … there’s never really anyone negative; they’re just here to help you. I know UHD is going to help me in the long run. It really gives students opportunities to go out there and do what they want to do.