Dancing Through Time with Helen Foerster

By December 6, 2023Blog

As a history major at San Jose State University, I’ve been drawn to the lives of ordinary people rather than focusing on monarchs or generals. I find a deep connection in exploring the diaries, letters, and community meeting notes of regular individuals. There’s something powerful about understanding the lives of those who came before us as everyday people.

Los Altos History Museum’s Oral History Project takes this connection a step further, allowing us to hear firsthand stories of people in their own voices. The nuances of their laughs, sighs, tones, and inflections add layers to their narratives that written records alone cannot capture. Making resources like these interviews accessible to the public is exceptionally rewarding. I’m passionate about ensuring accessibility in the archival field, and being involved in making these histories available to our community is a way of bridging our past to our future.

As a kid, I loved sitting with my grandma and hearing about her life. I still do! Sometimes I call her just to hear old stories about her childhood in Argentina or her years working in radio. This personal connection fuels my passion for delving into the lives of ordinary people in history. With interviews spanning across decades, the Oral History Project documents the growth of Los Altos, and the ages of our interviewees add another dimension to the historical narrative.

Helen Tomasick Foerster, born on June 25, 1920, passed away in 2017, yet her impactful story was shared through the project in 2014. Helen was a founding member of the Los Altos Federated Women’s Club and served as its second president from 1959 to 1960. Of her presidency, she says, “Actually, I was scared to death, because I never felt I was good at public speaking or organizing. I had to organize my own home, so I was able to do that much. But, I had never gotten into anything like this before. So, I finally learned by my boot straps, really, how to get along and how to organize the Women’s Club—or how to be a president, rather.”

The Women’s Club gave the women of Los Altos a space to cultivate personal growth, develop friendships, and foster a sense of community while giving back through fundraising. Helen speaks fondly of the Women’s Club’s fundraising activities, such as the Red Garter Revue of 1962, which raised $4,000 to then be donated to the community. She laughed while talking about dancing in a chorus line and doing the can-can on stage.

Helen’s experiences might have been lost to us if not for the Oral History project. Los Altos History Museum’s work memorializes the voices of community elders like Helen, preserving their invaluable stories for generations to come.

Contributed by Antonia Rock, Museum Intern

To access Helen’s oral history click here.

Helen Foerster, Red Garter Review (Los Altos Women’s Club fundraiser)