Historical costumer Jessica Michna brings Women's history to life

NOW: Historical costumer Jessica Michna brings Women’s history to life

NEW BERLIN, Wis. (CBS58) -- One hometown woman is doing her part to ensure the world sees history through the eyes of the women who made it.

In a room at the New Berlin Library, Jessica Michna donned a mix of vintage and custom-made pieces to transform herself into first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

"I thought, is my freedom worth their dying?" Michna asked, doing Roosevelt's unique voice.

Roosevelt is just one of 20 characters Michna portrays for her traveling first-person program called Historical First Impressions.

The characters range from first ladies to civil war nurses to Ukrainian-born Wisconsin resident Golda Meir who would become the first and, so far, only female Prime Minister of Israel.

Since 2000, Michna has combined her love of research and performing to share her joy of history with the world.

"I like to introduce the audience to those flesh and blood people. They're not just from the pages of history. They are history," she expressed. "Once I put these clothes on, this is Elanor Roosevelt."

She revives these often-forgotten women all over the Midwest with the help of her husband.

"I've seen these programs literally hundreds of times, and they still tear me up at times," Michael Michna said.

"She is probably the most talented person I've ever met. I would put her up against any actor or actress, ever."

From clothes to accents, Michna is very thorough, as she can spend up to two years researching each character's life.

"It's grand when people come up to you and say, 'I've got to go to the library and read more about that, she was such an interesting person, I didn't know she did all that," she said.

"I look at it as history isn't which general died under which tree. It's all the personal history of the people who lived in those times. That's what I try to bring across in introducing a character as a person in those widows' weeds."

She also spends countless hours making the costumes she wears.

"Most of the stuff I have to make," she explained. "I have to research everything from the construction to the fabric to the styles. Then I have to analyze, would that person actually wear that garment?"

A seamstress since she was just three years old, Michna sews everything from undergarments to buttons to coats for her ladies. Her props are also historically accurate, usually made by hand by her husband.

For the couple, educating everyone from seniors to children about these women is a big reason they put so much effort into everything they do.

"It's not just a matter of, 'oh I did this in 1905, and I bought a new pair of shoes in 1910.' It is the people that she met along the way, what they did with their lives, and they tell you in first-person," she said.

"I don't make fun of my characters. They are sometimes fun. They have their foibles, and they all made mistakes because they were human, but I never poke fun at them. They're too important, all of my characters."

For more information on Historical First Impressions, visit their website.

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