Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RH.6-8.4, RH.6-8.7, WHST.6-8.4, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.4, RI.6-8.7, W.6-8.4, SL.6-8.1

NCSS: Time, Continuity, and Change • Individuals, Groups, and Institutions • Power, Authority, and Governance • Civic Ideals and Practices

Josh Reynolds/AP Images for Scholastic

Olivia Fritzinger and Lucas Ioakim, pictured in Salem, Massachusetts, used the legal system to help an accused witch.


Paired Text

Justice for Salem’s Last Witch

Everyone found guilty during the Salem witch trials had their conviction overturned—except for one. A group of students set out to clear her name.

As You Read, Think About: What steps did the students take to achieve justice?

For more than 300 years, Elizabeth Johnson Jr. was considered guilty of a crime she didn’t commit. During the Salem witch trials, the 22-year-old woman from what is now North Andover, Massachusetts, was convicted of witchcraft.

Johnson wasn’t executed, but her reputation seemed scarred forever. While everyone else found guilty of evil magic during Salem’s infamous trials had been exonerated over the years, Johnson never was.

But in the fall of 2020, some unlikely allies stepped in to help—a group of students at North Andover Middle School. After learning about Johnson during their civics class, the then-eighth-graders decided to take action. Over the next two years, the teens wrote a bill to clear Johnson’s name and worked with a Massachusetts state senator to lobby for its passage.

The students’ efforts paid off. This past summer, the state of Massachusetts finally exonerated Johnson of witchcraft, 329 years after her conviction.

“She went through something so unfair,” says Olivia Fritzinger, 14. “We knew we had to fight for her.”

Courtesy Richard B. Trask

This Massachusetts memorial honors the victims of the Salem witch trials.

Wrongly Accused

Johnson was one of more than 200 people accused of witchcraft in Salem and surrounding towns in the early 1690s (see “I Am No Witch!”). Under intense pressure during her questioning, the young woman confessed. In January 1693, she was sentenced to death. 

By then, however, the witchcraft executions in Salem had all but stopped, as more people were expressing outrage over the hangings. The then-governor of Massachusetts halted Johnson’s execution. But her conviction still stood. She died in 1747 at age 77.

Students Step Up

When teacher Carrie LaPierre shared Johnson’s story with her students, the teens vowed to help the accused woman.

First, they researched how a bill becomes a law. Then the students drafted a bill to clear Johnson’s name. Next, they petitioned local lawmakers to sponsor their bill. Diana DiZoglio, a Massachusetts state senator, agreed. She worked with the teens on revising the bill, and in the spring of 2021, she introduced it in the state senate.

But the lawmaking process, the students learned, can take time. So that fall, a new class of eighth-graders picked up where the first class had left off. They wrote letters to Massachusetts lawmakers on Johnson’s behalf.


Setting the Record Straight

The Salem Witch Trials

Accusations of witchcraft overtake the village of Salem. About 30 people are convicted, and 20 are put to death.

Compensation for Victims

The colony of Massachusetts begins to restore the rights of the convicted and provides payments to their families.

A Formal Apology

The state of Massachusetts officially apologizes and exonerates convicted witch Ann Pudeator, along with other victims not identified by name.

More Exonerations

Massachusetts lawmakers clear five other people, including Bridget Bishop, the first accused witch to be hanged.

Innocence Restored

Elizabeth Johnson Jr., the only convicted person not yet exonerated, is finally cleared of witchcraft charges.

SKILL SPOTLIGHT: Analyzing a Timeline

How long after the Salem witch trials ended did the colony of Massachusetts start compensating some victims?

A “Witch” No More

Despite the students’ efforts, the bill stalled earlier this year. “It was placed in study, which we learned basically meant it was dead,” says Lucas Ioakim, 15.

But DiZoglio had an idea. This past spring, the senator included the bill as an amendment to a budget bill that was making its way through the state legislature. When the governor signed the budget into law in July, Johnson’s name was officially cleared.

“These students [had] the courage to be a voice for someone who hasn’t had a voice for so long,” says DiZoglio. “This amendment would not be possible without their tireless efforts.”

As for the students who spent two years fighting for Johnson, it was a lesson in hard work but also a reminder that it’s important to speak up for what’s right.

“Even though we’re only students, we can make an impact,” Olivia says. “We changed history.” 

Words to Know

amendment: a change or an addition to a law or document

exonerate: to state officially that someone is not guilty of a crime or other wrongdoing

legislature: an elected group of people who can make and change laws

lobby: to try to influence government officials to take a particular position or to vote in a certain way

petition: to make a formal request for something

Click here to read a paired text article about the history of the Salem witch trials.

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