Minutes of the first day of the November 12-13, 1998 Commission Meeting
The fourth meeting of the President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History was held on November 12-13, 1998 at the United States Department of State in Washington, D.C.
In accordance with Public Law 92-463 as amended, this meeting was open to the public and members of the public were present.
Commission Members Present
Ann Lewis, Co-Chair
In addition to members of the public, Martha Davis from the General Services Administration and Ruby Shamir from the White House staffed the meeting.
Opening Remarks and Statement of Purpose and Goals
Following is a transcript of Ann Lewis' remarks.
Again I want to thank you all for being here, and I want to begin by telling you a little about this commission. The Commission was established by an executive order from the President in July of 1998. Its charge is to make recommendations to the President on the best way to acknowledge and celebrate the roles and accomplishments of women in American history. Our reasoning behind creation of the Commission is two fold; the first is because 1998 was the 150th anniversary of Senecca Falls. It was for us a strong moment worth recognizing women's role in America's history and how it had changed and the fact that we were two years from our millennium year--a time when we knew there was going to be much more attention paid to history and we wanted to make sure that women's lives and contributions would be recognized as part of this history.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, has suggested that the theme for the millennium should be "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future." To honor the past we have to appreciate the past as it really was. It is simply not true to think that the only women in American history are those who served Thanksgiving dinner or, perhaps, sewed the flag. We know that the richness and diversity of our country includes the contributions and the courage of women. A truly accurate history would tell the story of the women whose courage and commitment made our lives possible.
I've already mentioned that at the 150th year anniversary of Senecca Falls was the first time that the term "women's rights" was used in public, and that was the first time that the idea that women should vote was raised in public. It was a resolution that we should remember, a resolution that was so controversial even at Senecca Falls, at that first "women's rights" convention, that it only carried because of the persuasive speeches of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglas and others who spoke out about what the franchise could mean. So I would like to think that the idea of women voting went from being a radical idea in 1848 to a decisive factor in elections in 1998 which probably means that we are about to consider it a radical idea again.
This concept of women as citizens, as full-fledged citizens with all the rights and responsibilities embodied with voting, is now a central fact as we choose our leaders, and we have to remember that that concept did not come naturally. Carrie Chapman Catt told us this the day after women got the right to vote. She said, "We are no longer petitioners, we are not wards of the nation, but free and equal citizens." That vote of yours has cost millions of dollars and the lives of thousands of women. Money to carry on this work has been given usually as a sacrifice and thousands of women have gone without things they've wanted and could have had in order that they might help get the vote, and it really is the courage and the sacrifice of all of those women who have come before who have made our lives possible." Our ability to be citizens is really brought forward by the work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglas, Carrie Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and Mary Church Terrell.
That achievement was the greatest expansion of American democracy in our history and yet that story is almost invisible in our history books. Think about it: democracy the concept is this great central theme in American life, and it really began among a very small circle of white, property- owning men. The history of America has been how we expanded democracy to people who did not own property, to African-Americans, to women. Each time democracy is expanded, our nation grows stronger, and we benefit from having more and more and a greater number of citizens. The story of that expansion has a powerful lesson for our future, but we can't learn the lesson if we don't first learn our history. So that is part of what we hope to achieve with this commission.
We can't imagine the future if we don't appreciate the past on which we are building. We cannot imagine the future that is going to be filled with the talent, the energy, the experience of every American if we don't appreciate the values they offer and have offered throughout our history, and we can't assume that that history will be told if we don't step forward to tell it.
If there is one thing we have learned from studying the history of women over the years is that when women are not explicitly included, we are implicitly denied. If we do not actively suggest and work for the inclusion of women in history, our work and our lives recede into the background as it has before. We cannot assume our children will know their history, the legacy they have to be proud of, the heroes who step forward out of everyday life to make a difference. They won't know their history if we don't tell them. If we want them to have heroes, we want our children to act heroically, then we owe it to them to tell them that people like themselves have made a difference in the world by acting in heroic ways. I would suggest that gives us an even greater incentive to tell the full story of our history.
I want to acknowledge the great work that has been done in recent years by historians and academics, by writers and advocates for women's history. There has been a wave of energy and we see it in the museums, in the new museums for women's history, in the growth of web sites devoted to telling women's stories and connecting us to one another, in the thousands of people who showed up in Seneca Falls which is still a very small town, early in the morning in New York to hear Hillary Rodham Clinton speak about the story of the first women's rights convention and the challenge we have to live up to that day. So we know we have a lot to work with, we have a lot to work from and we appreciate that.
The Commission has met, so far, we've met in the Canandaigua Courthouse. We met the same day as the Seneca Falls celebration in the room of the courthouse where Susan B. Anthony was convicted of voting that being a crime in 1874. We talked a lot about Seneca Falls and about our history and where we should go next. We met again in Albuquerque where we had a wonderful opportunity to see and learn and hear about American-Indian women's history, of Hispanic women. We were learning about the Southwest. There is so much about the land--who owns it, who benefits from it, who works it and the role of women in that part of the world.
We met in Chicago, where we have heard from organizations and institutions that are building and telling about women's lives, where they are, and again this story about the richness, the diversity, the courage, and the contributions that women have made that go unrecognized and have really been with us wherever we've been. So we've seen the response we've been getting, the people who have testified so far and the people we will hear over the next two days. I just want to thank you for your presence and your participation.
And to say just two requests that I would like people to keep in mind. One is that we do have a lot of speakers which we are happy about, but we would like you to honor the time you've been given because we do want to hear from everybody. We probably can't stay here all night, I think the State Department would get a little bit sticky about that. The second is as we began thinking, because we've had three meetings now, and when we were thinking about how to make it all concrete we thought our suggestions might fall into four categories:
1. National- what is it we do nationally during the millennium year to celebrate women's history;
2. Local/Community- what is it that we might suggest that every community may do and can we give people an option, a menu of options of choices they could take;
3. Education- especially K-12--we've heard that colleges are paying more and more attention to women's history but that students often get to college and they haven't learned anything more than the pilgrim women and Betsy Ross. We can improve there;
4. Popular culture - which is really where we get our information and learn--these are powerful stories and how can we ensure that they get told in ways that reach most people.
So these are the categories that would be particularly helpful, but I wouldn't want to limit anyone's imagination who is with us today. If you come up with a brilliant extra-terrestrial idea we want to hear it and we will still try to fit it into one of our slots. So with our charge, our responsibility in mind I am, on behalf of the other commission members, call on our first speaker Mary Ellen Henry.
Where available the transcripts or a prepared testimony is provided for the speakers.
Mary Ellen Henry
As a graduate student and researcher I have had my share of kilting with archives and scouring through documents or serendipitous finds in unlikely places, of hours spent to only have the trail run cold. A grad student friend's latest horror story was at a distinguished eastern university where she was looking for diaries of rural New England women. She found them in a large box, un-catalogued and marked "anonymous." One can take this fact as evidence of the dishonoring of American women's lives, but the question remains: what are we going to do about it? Many archival repositories from the distinguished university down to the small city sites often don't know what they have because of old policies and too few resources to properly identify, catalogue, and preserve their collections.
While money does exist to help institutions with limited resources, we simply need more resources. We need to get creative with using corporate funding about creating endowments, about finding the means by which these institutions can get a firm grip on their collections. Secondly, they need to be more fully cognizant about what they have dealing with women's history and American history in general. So much about what we know about women in history comes from sources like diaries, letters, obscure things found in obscure places, or buried in a distinguished university's archives.
An initial step would be some sort of central repository, an index or directory if you will, of archives and material with direct bearing on women's history. I am envisioning an on-line resource that a researcher could access to find where pertinent materials are held. This would be accessible for all, K-12, college, everybody. I know that the AHA is in the process of cataloging web sites dealing with American history in its History Highways project, but I would want to see included those places that might not have web sites or are known again only locally because of a lack of resources.
Such a program could be organized on a regional basis and then hooked into a central site. For example, the Washington historical society has wonderful stuff, the Mary McLeod Bethune Museum has wonderful stuff; all of these things need to be thought about. Octagon house, the smaller facilities in conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, the Spin Garn (sp) collection, and the Howard collection could all be gleamed for what they have, put in a central place and you could click on and go here to find out about this person, that person or about some aspect of women's history in general. That is my educational point, if you will.
In my hat as a Chair of the Alexandria Historical Resources Commission, I am going to toot my horn about what I consider to be a very unique program. Concerning the second and third questions about attention to existing sites and celebrating in local communities, I would like to offer the city of Alexandria, Virginia as a model. Because the city of Alexandria has always taken pride in its history and is very fortunate to have a lot of old buildings, in large part because they were too poor to have them torn down in a time when urban renewal swept through old downtowns and because the city realized the potential value in tourism and with a historical bend, examples of Williamsburg, etc. abounding in our area, it created the office of historic Alexandria some twenty odd years ago.
This organization or city agency oversees two accredited museums. One is the Fort Worth Museum and the other is the Lyceum which covers the history of the city of Alexandria from the get-go as well as other historic sites which cover the history of this place across the spectrum: from the pre-historic as in having the city's archaeology department go out at development site and look for pre-historic evidence of Native Americans and so forth. Through the colonial interpretation at Gatsby's Tavern, the 19th century at the Friendship Firehouse and the Fort Worth Museum's Civil War site, the Black History Resource Center and the Watson reading room is a repository that has a lot to tell about the lives and social history of black men and women within the community.
Each of these component parts now has an exhibition annually that speaks to the concerns and about the daily lives of women. For instance, the Lyceum last year had an exhibit on Women's Education in the 18th Century. Pam Cressy, the city archaeologist, has written articles for the local newspaper highlighting the lives of women in various time periods.
My point is that their efforts work because they are coordinated and shared on a city-wide level, the whole being run by Gene Taylor Federico. Gene works on outreach all the time. Programs are developed that can be used in the city schools or other school systems or taken out to senior citizens. Schools throughout the region are encouraged to visit the sites for living history re-enactments.
The city works in concert with other private historic sites and there are many of them in the city of historic Alexandria--Robert Lee's birth place, etc. What better way to celebrate women than by giving a voice to their lives. One last point that I want to make is that I think we all should encourage the development of local histories. I, as a researcher, have found them to be invaluable in my own work and within given communities that is the place to start. One of our local civic organizations in my neighborhood puts out a local history every ten years and it is not just a history of old houses and "gee something interesting happened here," it's the history of civic organizations like the Women's Garden Club and what they've done for the city. Like the Women's Club per say, all of the organizations, the Red Cross, all of the organizations that women become involved in and I think we can do a lot more of that. Thank you very much.
Ann Lewis thanked Mary Ellen Henry and introduced Dr. Roya Ayman. Dr. Ayman is Director of the Industrial Organizational Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Dr. Roya Ayman
Since the 1970's, social scientists in the field of management have demonstrated, even though we are at the threshold of the 21st century and despite a general ethos of equality, still Americans have little expectations that a woman has the potential and characteristics to be in positions of authority and decision-making. There are many researchers and studies that have demonstrated that men and women, boys and girls have the expectation that a leader has an image of a man. In the world of work, the characteristics that are associated with a manager have a preponderance of distinctive masculine qualities.
The presence of these male images of a leader has been reinforced by the dearth of opportunities rendered to women and girls in our society in the past, and the lack of equal recognition of men and women's contributions throughout our history. To help remedy these conditions, scientists recommend enforcement of these laws to ensure equal access to opportunities of employment, service, and education for women and men as well as boys and girls. Further, to concert the efforts and continued socialization is necessary to change the gender bias that shapes the images that the Americans have and to change that collective consciousness of the professionals and the successful professionals in our society.
As a Baha'i I would like to praise the efforts of our government that have been expended on women globally. More than a century ago the Baha'i Faith came to this country. This was the time before women in the U.S. had the right to vote. Among the various social principles of the Baha'i Faith is the principle of full gender equality, not only in the spiritual sense but in all areas of human endeavor. As America entered the 20th century, these were very progressive, even revolutionary ideas. As we enter the 21st century, it is clear that the establishment of the equality of women and men is being swept along by the tide of history.
A particularly important instrument to achieve gender equality lies in the provision of equal educational-curricula for boys and girls so that they develop equal potential to contribute to society. In addition, the Baha'i teachings mandate that if any disparities are permitted to exist, they should be in the direction of giving girls priority in access to education not only because they are the mothers of the next generation and hence, the first educators of children, but that it is only through their increased contribution in all walks of life that the human civilization can achieve greater degrees of prosperity, peace, and justice.
One indication of that commitment has been that for several years now the national Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States along with Amnesty International has been co-chairing a national effort for the ratification of the UN Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. For the first time in human history after centuries of discrimination and, at times, outright abuse and violence, the nations of the world have agreed upon international standards and norms to advance and protect women. The Baha'is and as well as many other religions and non-governmental organizations hope that before the year 2000 the United States will become a party to the only international human rights treaty drafted so far that specifically deals with eliminating discrimination against women and providing the conditions for their advancement. We need the true leadership of the United States to "imagine a future" of equality for women everywhere.
The First Lady has called upon us to "honor the past, and imagine the future." Can there be any doubt that the wonderfully-textured fabric of this richly blessed nation has been woven through the efforts, contributions, and sacrifices of all its peoples? The Baha'is imagine a future in which women and men function in full equality and complementarily, like two wings of a bird. From early days, women have played key roles in the development of the Baha'i community. They have suffered, sacrificed, defended the Faith. Indeed, in the past century of American Baha'i history, it has been repeatedly noted that the contributions of the women have outshone those of their male counterparts despite the fact that the prevailing social norms in the larger society thrust men to the forefront. Baha'is, men and women alike, are well aware of both the men and women of the past that have made our community what it is.
Generalizing from this, to a recommendation to the commission, it seems evident that efforts need to be made that historical accounts be reshaped in a way that is more inclusive of the often more hidden and subtle roles played by women and others outside the formal traditional channels of power and authority. Rather than have a separate book or chapter or for that matter, an isolated museum building for the contributions of women, it would be better to readjust our perspectives in ways that will show how women and men have created America together through their interdependent efforts. Greater recognition of outstanding individual women also has its place of course, but such segregated treatment is not sufficient in and of itself. It is time that we truly honor the richness of our past and recognize the contributions of all Americans, including women and men and people of color in building this nation which is the envy of the world.
Americans have never been a people to dwell in the past. America's greatness has always been in creating a vision for the future and working to make it a reality. I believe that our national celebration of women in American history will be truly meaningful and memorable to the extent that it promotes a future in which masculine and feminine sensibilities achieve a new, mature, balanced, and harmonious expression in the collective life of the nation. If there is to be a national monument, let it be a monument that embodies this American dream for a future of equality and justice for all. Let us create the language, symbols, and artistic expression of this vision that will quicken us to nobler paths of endeavor.
In this age, "women have equal rights with men upon earth," but fortunately, it is not a zero-sum game. We must transcend the narrow-minded view that the advancement of women comes at the expense of men and awaken to the reality that "as long as women are prevented from attaining their highest possibilities, so long will men be unable to achieve the greatness which might be theirs." It is in the articulation of this vision of the future that we can create a celebration that is truly worthy, and help build a foundation for the future greatness of this American democracy.
Building a monument or establishing an institution such as a library or a museum might limit visibility and accessibility to a particular geographic area. A more effective and widely- recognized action may be to designate a day or a week during the year for the celebration and recognition of the outstanding services and achievements of the women in the past and at the present. To provide resources so that all over the country, educational institutions, media, and professional associations are encouraged and empowered to participate in such an annual event. This national event should be inclusive and create awareness for a large number of citizens, than just a few who may visit a monument.
In celebrating women in American history we should acknowledge woman in all roles she participates in society such as a mother, as a professional, as a worker, and as a wife. Her interdependence with her brother in advancing the civilization should not be forgotten. As our women in the U.S. come in all colors, we should take pride and celebrate them in all communities, villages, and cities in the country.
Ann Lewis thanked Dr. Roya Ayman and introduced Maxine Scarbro, President of the General Federation of Women's Clubs and is also active with the Pear S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and the West Virginia Women's Commission.
Over the past 108 years since it was founded, the General Foundation of Women's Clubs, an international women's volunteer service organization, has constantly sought ways to commemorate the achievements of American women, particularly those in volunteerism. GFWC's recent themes, "Celebrate Women: Past, Present, and Future," and "Illuminate the Past, Ignite the Future," are, in fact, very close in their message to the one Mrs. Clinton has suggested for the millennium celebration, "Honor the past, Imagine the future." Our themes indicate the strong emphasis the Federation places on the importance of educating Americans not only about the countless women who helped make our country what it is today, but also on the need to document and preserve records of women's achievements for future generations.
All women's organizations should be encouraged to preserve their records. But, it is probably safe to say that GFWC is one of a very few with a strict policy on preservation. One of our permanent projects encourages both state federations and local clubs to preserve their historical records and to make these resources available to researchers. This program includes suggestions for writing club histories and recording oral histories as well as preserving records. Our staff archivist at Headquarters provides appropriate guidelines to all who request them, and we offer to store all materials here in Washington.
We know from the researchers who visit GFWC's Women's History and Resource Center that these collected records are the building blocks for theses, dissertations, books and articles-- all of which perpetuate our ongoing story for the next century and beyond. I truly believe that if every woman's organization documented its achievements, we would be taking a giant step toward assuring that the stories of women's lives would live on.
But, of course, doing that alone is not enough. Another major effort this country needs to undertake is to assure that women's history is included in the public school curriculum. Until text books are appropriately updated to incorporate women's achievements throughout our country's history, supplemented materials must be prepared so that teachers from grade school through high school can teach the complete story of America's development.
How should women's history be celebrated in local communities? March, as we all know, is National Women's History Month. It was established by the National Women's History Project of California to promote awareness of women's history. The Project produces curriculum and display materials as well as posters and also conducts conferences and workshops for teachers. The General Foundations for Women's Clubs use National Women's History Month materials to promote celebrations in their local communities and schools, and many other community organizations also are committed to holding History Month celebrations. I would like to suggest that we lend additional support to this excellent effort that already exists, rather than weakening it by creating yet another vehicle for the same purpose.
One of the things that could be done during Women's History Month in order to enlarge the celebration would be to honor an author who has written a book during the previous year about a woman whose achievements will affect life in the 21st century. This could be an annual national award with a ceremony conducted at the White House by the First Lady. Although there are many details that would have to be worked out, I feel certain that on the community level there would be numerous women's clubs and other service organizations that would sponsor discussion sessions about the heroine of the book, thereby spreading knowledge of her achievements and helping to establish a roster of women heroines. From the Federation's experience over the past four years in sponsoring a journalism contest for print reports who write about women and about topics of interest to women, I can assure you that this kind of activity does a lot to raise awareness.
Another idea that came out of discussions with members of my professional staff was to establish a "Gallery of American Heroines." This would basically mean selecting 12 women in a different area of American life each year and recognizing them for their contributions to their particular field, be it Fashion, Government, Education, Volunteerism, Law, Sports, etc. Biographical information, photos, and other materials about each of the 12 persons would make up a traveling exhibit that would tour local communities across the country for all Americans to see. A calendar could be produced each year featuring photos and biographical data about the 12 heroines and, of course, a video could be produced annually for use in schools and libraries.
Should there be a national focus, such as a building in Washington, D.C.? While we understand that a National Museum for Women's History is in the early planning stages, and we agree that such an institution in the nation's capitol would give national focus to women in American history, we would caution that it be very well funded in advance so as to avoid the situation facing the Women in Military Service for America Memorial which, as a recent Washington Post article points out, has a wonderful building but suffers from a severe shortage of exhibits.
Materials on women are currently available in many varied sites. Examples would be Senecca Falls, The Schlesinger Library, the National Museum for Women in the Arts, etc. With this in mind, it might be wise to consider a Center for Women's History which could be named the Esther Peterson Center in commemoration of her role in establishing the first Commission on Women as part of an already established museum in Washington. This Center would be a central repository for books, videos, tapes, photos, personal papers, and oral histories on women in all fields and throughout our country's history.
It would feature special rotating exhibits from other museums as well as new exhibits, and would offer visitors finding-guides to all the many collections that our Federation archivist tells me exist around the country. Considering the abundance of materials already archived, the Center, in effect, would serve as a national registry for women's archives and for general archives containing materials about women, linking researchers to the libraries and museums where information exists in much the same way that the National Portrait Gallery's registry, the Library of Congress, and the National Archives serve the broad public interest.
How can technology be used to connect existing planned repositories of information? While I have very limited expertise in this area, there are individuals on the Federation's professional staff who know a great deal and could be helpful in mapping out a plan. From what I am told, on-line guides to archives which have women's history collections have been compiled by the University of Texas at San Antonio, Duke University, and others. There also is a hard copy guide to women's history collections, but it is already ten years old.
In the belief that the voices of women past and present should be heard by all rather than just by the few who are able to travel to archives around the country, we suggest the establishment of a permanent collection of written texts and images of women online at a single location. In other words, use technology to:
Ann Lewis thanked Maxine Scarbro and requested that speakers submit their testimony to Ruby and proceeded to introduce Dr. Page Putnam Miller, Director of the National Coordinating Committee for the Promotion of History.
Dr. Page Putnam Miller
There were approximately 2,000 landmarks when we started our project, and of those only about 40 focussed on women and our goal was to increase that number. We increased it by 40, which means that we doubled it, but the down side of that is that still less than five percent focus on women. We worked on a really shoestring budget: in the 1989 federal budget there was 60,000 marked for this and for the next two years a modest amount was also included. So we were working with a small amount of money, but the purpose of this project was to identify sites.
What we all want to happen is for the sites to be identified and then maintained, so many of the sites are in poor condition, and then to be opened to the public with interpretive programs that build on the kind of scholarship that you've heard about in using the archival resources. So there are so many aspects to this story of historic sites. I believe that historic sites physically link us to the past, they spark our imagination, and they assist us in understanding our history. Because I believe this, I really urge you to consider a major part of your proposal the increasing of the number of sites--historic sites related to women--that are open to the public and have interpretive programs.
Now of the national historic landmarks that we worked on, many are privately-owned and not open to the public and that is an important stage in the process. Two of the landmarks that we were able to get through this rather involved National Park Service project will be mentioned today. One was the Headquarters for the Federation of Women's Clubs and the other is Paulsdale, the birthplace of Alice Paul. We feel that we did play a role in identifying these sites, but we are hopeful that it could move to another level.
When I started this project in 1989, and I haven't done this since 1989 so it's dated, but I tried to find out how many historic sites there were in the United States focussed on women, with an interpretive program about women's history, and I found fifty. Of those fifty, there were three for Mary Baker Eddy, there was one for the Girl Scouts of America (they have a house in Savannah for their founder), there was the Louisa May Alcott house. There are a number of houses, but if you look at these fifty you get a very limited view of history if you had to depend on only these sites. So we know how desperately we need to encourage additional sites and then we need to encourage the research and writing about these sites.
When I edited the book Landmarks of Women's History I was so aware of how little we had to build on. We are hoping that people can build on our work now for many more. Your basic question about how to make the story of women's history more alive and more relevant to the public...I do think through historic buildings. That would mean identifying them, maintaining them, and developing interpretive programs, so I think there needs to be assistance and grants in all of those areas. I see two basic strategies for enhancing an understanding of women's history through buildings. One is through building that focus primarily of women's history, but what about all of those other buildings that focus on great men? There were women present at those sites and so we also need to talk about integrating women's history into sites that focus primarily on men.
I had an opportunity to work with the Park Service on a booklet called "Exploring a Common Past: Interpreting Women's History in the National Park Service" and this booklet was geared for all the national parks whose main focus is to talk about something other than women's history, but to incorporate women's history into that story.
I have spoken of national initiatives, but I would like to mention a state initiative. The state of Georgia just this Spring began a project to identify historic resources in the state that focus on women. They are beginning this by doing a historical context that would give the people around the state the kind of identification and evaluation guidance that they need. I think this is a wonderful project and I would hope that all states could do that. I understand there is interest in New Jersey. For this kind of survey of historic sites related to women to happen state by state, there needs to be a centralized initiative that encourages it and provides assistance grants.
You have asked the question and it has come up in several of the testimonies about a national museum for women. Well, I always encourage anything that promotes women's history, but I do feel that at this stage there are so many projects out there. You have the legislation of Chris Dodd that recently passed identifying women's history sites, you have in the Park Service legislation a call for a study of a women's history trail, you have the various archival projects that have already been mentioned, and I feel that there is so much already on the plate that needs encouragement and support, that I am wondering if at this time we really have enough resources and energy to undertake a museum.
One last thing: the urgency about identifying these sites. Of the forty sites we identified to be national historic landmarks in women's history, one of them has already been torn down. I am really sad about that. It was the Mother Jones' house, the house in West Virginia where she was held prisoner for three months while she was playing an extremely pivotal role in a coal mine strike in 1912 and this happened because of a lack of care and interest. These sites are not going to stay around forever and if they are not identified and cared for, in this case there was a lot of termite damage and the owner just said that it wasn't worth fixing. So there is an urgency to identifying historical sites associated with women.
Ann Lewis reiterated the urgency of preserving historic sites and introduced Ms. Barbara Haney Irvine who was instrumental in founding the Alice Paul Centennial Foundation, served as its President, and is now Foundation trustee.
Barbara Haney Irvine
After Suffrage, recognizing that that the vote was just the first step, she offered the Equal Rights Amendment to secure full constitutional legal equality for women. She worked for this Amendment for fifty-four years until her death in 1977. While the Equal Rights Amendment was being held hostage in Congress for over fifty years, Alice Paul worked on the International level to gain equality for women world-wide.
Before I present our recommendations to you, I would like to briefly share with you something about the Foundations' experiences as it has created a campaign to save this nationally- significant women's historical resource. The Alice Paul Foundation was founded in 1985 really to have a one-time event, so beware any of you who might attempt to do something like that. It started out with just a simple 100th birthday party for Alice Paul and here we are. We had no idea we would have the opportunity to save her books, papers, and personal effects, placing them at the National Museum of American History and at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe college, nor did we have the thought in mind that we would become the steward to her birthplace and home in Mount Laurel.
We were presented with the opportunity in early 1987 to save Paulsdale, a circa 1840 farm house, 6.5 acres of ground--all that remained of the original 200 acre farm that her father had purchased in 1883. Paulsdale today is completely surrounded by residential development. The reason the former owners were so concerned about this property was that they had been approached time and time again by realtors interested in taking this small plot, raising the house, and creating condominiums or single family homes.
Essentially, in the Spring of 1987 we launched our campaign to save this property and negotiated an agreement with the owners basically thinking if we didn't do it who else was going to do it because nobody seemed to know anything, even in the local community, much about Alice Paul and her significant. We were able to acquire a bank loan (miraculously) and loans from two individuals and that enabled us to close in on the property in 1990.
Before actually acquiring the property we played a significant role in getting Paulsdale registered on the New Jersey and national registers of historic places. I am pleased to say that in 1991, Paulsdale was named a national historic landmark, and I have thanked her many times publicly but I am going to do it again, because if it had not been for Dr. Miller and her committee I am not certain that the Park Service would have agreed so they were really our advocates in place there. The National Historic Landmark designation played a significant role in giving us the added credibility we needed to go to major funders. Private contributions have enabled us to substantially reduce the debt. We paid $465,000 for this property and we now only owe about fifty percent of that. Debt service...donations will be gratefully received, thank you.
Essentially what happened is that we have been paying off on the monthly mortgage payments, and the debt service alone over the last ten years has run over $350,000 just in interest on the loans. Very recently, however, we received a matching grant of $478,000 from the New Jersey Historic Trust. This will require us to raise dollar-for-dollar match, but we also received a special allocation from the New Jersey Legislature of $106,000, so this money has all been dedicated toward the rehabilitation of Paulsdale. We are not out of the woods yet, but I am happy to say for the first time in eleven years, Paulsdale's future looks a lot brighter.
From the very beginning of our preservation campaign we were determined that we didn't want Paulsdale to become just a historic house museum and why was that? We thought Alice Paul wouldn't have wanted it that way. We think Alice Paul wanted something that was going to basically help promote what she had spent her entire life doing which is working for the advancement of women. So our plans for the site include: a leadership center for women and girls--the Foundation's part of this is going to be a special leadership program for eighth grade girls, office space for women-focussed non-profits unable to afford regular commercial office space, a meeting facility for local, regional, and national organizations, and space for women's history exhibitions and programs on women's history.
The major obstacles facing our campaign to save Paulsdale have been the public's lack of knowledge about women's history and the resulting lack of interest in places which recognize women's accomplishments. You might say that if I received a dollar for every time someone said to me "Alice who? And why are you interested in saving her house anyway?" we would have paid this off in the first couple of years.
I have to tell you one of the great experiences I had was going to a New Jersey public official, and as you can see it's been eleven years since we've been able to get serious support from the state, I was sitting in the office of a New Jersey official who had his feet up on the desk and he was smoking a cigar much like Daddy Warbucks, and he looked over his glasses and he said to me, "I can understand why someone would be interested in the home of someone like Thomas Jefferson, or someone like George Washington, but I can't understand why anyone would be interested in this." His two aides de camp, who were women, leapt over the table, I had to say nothing but I am sure my face revealed my reaction to all of this, but they almost strangled the man with their bare hands and proceeded to sort of set him straight. In any event, clearly the success of any campaign to preserve any historic site associated with women is directly related to the degree to which women's achievements, women themselves, and women's history are valued in this society.
Our own struggles to save Paulsdale led us to ask questions about who else must be doing, crazy enough quite frankly, to be doing what we were doing and how we could share our experiences and learn from others. In 1994, "Reclaiming Women's History Through Historic Preservation," the first national conference on the preservation of women's historic sites, was held at Bridge- more college. I am pleased to say that the Alice Paul Centennial Foundation initiated this ground-breaking conference and I was honored to serve as the conference chair. Since then a second conference was held at Arizona State University in 1997 and plans are underway for the third conference to be held here in Washington D.C. in the year 2000.
Recently, the Foundation has joined with the National Women's Party, owner of the Sue Belmont house, another historic landmark here in Washington D.C., to host a two-day planning conference on March 3rd and 4th, 1999 for the purpose of creating a national collaboration of women's historic sites. We know that such an affiliation among women's sites will greatly enhance our public visibility, provide greater access to the technical assistance needed by those involved in saving women's sites, and enhance the potential for the public and private funding so desperately needed to protect sites threatened by development or neglect. The collaboration will create a forum to discuss new ways in which women's sites can be used to tell women's stories.
Based on our experiences in trying to save Paulsdale, the Alice Paul Centennial Foundation wishes to recommend the following for the Commission's consideration. First, given our experience in the lack of knowledge about women's history and the lack of what we consider to be a coordinated national visibility for this, we would like to suggest the promotion of a National Museum of Women's History here in the nation's capital to serve as foundation for a national initiative to honor the achievements of American women.
Secondly, we would appreciate your support in the development of this national collaboration of women's historic sites, and although I recognize that your report is due to the President in March, maybe you can join us on March 3rd and 4th at the Sue Belmont house to participate in our discussion and perhaps your report could be turned in a little later in March. Third, I think there is a great need, as Dr. Miller has pointed out, for the documentation of women's sites nationwide. We believe that if there were a program to provide even matching funds to states, in view of the fact that at this point no state has done any comprehensive study, that this might be an incentive for states to document women-related historical resources.
We would like to suggest that you build upon the existing program in the Park Service to provide information about women's sites on the world wide web. In closing, the story of saving Paulsdale is more than the story about preserving a specific site associated with an American woman--it is the story of the awakening of a group of women to our own history and the importance of that history as a source of individual and collective empowerment.
The preservation of Paulsdale has been among the most difficult and trying tasks we have ever pursued. It has been filled with joy, disappointment, success, setbacks, and ultimately, a tremendous sense of accomplishments. It has taught us our strengths and our limitations and has never failed to show us that women working together can, and do, accomplish monumental things. Perhaps that is ultimately what preserving women's history and preserving women's sites is all about--a greater understanding of the power of women and the discovery of that power within each of us. Thank you very much.
Ann Lewis thanked Barbara Irvine and asked the Commission if they had any questions.
Ellen Ochoa praised the idea of combining the historical site with a leadership development center. She then inquired whether the Foundation found it easier or harder to raise funds when a development center is tied to a historic site.
Barbara Irvine responded that the Foundation found it much easier to attract major funders once they decided to tie the two together. She also advocated "adaptive re-use" for certain sites if there was not already an existing museum there or possibly expanding sites from museums to education centers. The Susan B. Anthony house in Rochester, New York was mentioned as a possible model for such a project.
Ellen Ochoa asked Ms. Irvine if she had any suggestions for possible themes to attract the attention of potential funders. She also inquired about potential private funding that could be utilized for projects similar to those mentioned.
Barbara Irvine explained the difficulties the Foundation encountered in their initial efforts to attract funders. She speculated that these difficulties would be magnified if the funding was being utilized for the preservation of the birthplace of a woman of color or someone who didn't have the same level of exposure in terms of American history. She attributed the Foundation's success to the committed group of volunteers at their disposal for the entire effort and the fact that funders responded to the idea of a multi-use facility.
Ann Lewis introduced Dr. Cynthia Harrison, Associate Professor of History and Women's Studies at George Washington University, and she is also the author of On Account of Sex : The Politics of Women's Issues.
Dr. Cynthia Harrison
I brought with me, just by way of illustration to give you some sense of how really vital the field is, the listing of books that I was able to quickly identify published on women's suffrage in the 1990's. When feminists first became interested in women's history and entered the academy in the 1970's, there was an initial spurt of interest in women's suffrage and everyone wrote all of the books we needed in order to uncover this lost history, but in the 1990's we have begun to look at women's suffrage again in a new and different way to see if we can pose new questions to this material. Let me just read you the titles of these books all of which have been published since 1990.
I think the vast array of approaches to the subject of women's suffrage is a good indication of the continuing interest and the way that looking at the experience of women illuminates in fact not only the experience of women but the development of democracy in the United States and the way history refigures itself as our ideas about gender change. Having federal leadership and bringing the attention of this new scholarship to a wider audience is essential.
I thought that I could most usefully provide some background on another project in which I was involved, and that was the Bicentennial of the Constitution which occurred in 1987. I was the Deputy Director of a project called Project 1987 which was a joint effort of historians, political scientists, and law faculty to illuminate the history of the constitution and again to bring the scholarship in that area to a wider audience.
There was an important component of federal leadership involved in Project 1987, in fact it was a partnership between public entities and private organizations and foundations, scholars, individuals, state agencies, and local agencies. It was an extremely broad, broad-reaching effort, and I think everyone, particularly the scholars connected with it, felt that it really was a successful opportunity to bridge the space between academic scholarship on the subject and the interested public, adult public, as well as elementary and secondary school teachers. Numerous projects created partnerships between academics and elementary and secondary school teachers and some of these partnerships continue. Even to this day there were new organizations that were instituted not only as a result of some funding from the federal government, but also because of the interest that the effort attracted on the part of public funders as well.
What Project 1987 sought to do was provide additional support for three specific areas: basic scholarship in the history of the area (then it was Constitutional History but now we would look for support basic scholarship in women's history, and I can talk about where those opportunities might come from), support for teaching at all levels (elementary, secondary, and college level-- what we find is that there is a fairly wide gap and time between the time that academics know it and the time that it filters down to high schools and elementary schools. I should say in that regard, we found that secondary school teachers, particularly secondary school social studies teachers, were very eager to participate in programs concerning constitutional history and I am fairly sure that we would have the same enthusiasm if we were to create partnerships concerning women's history as well), and public programming. By public programming I mean programs in museums and libraries, at national park sites...the places that the public readily have access to.
There are a number of different kinds of programs: conferences, book discussion groups, exhibits supported by in some cases public but in the majority of cases private funding, and an enormous array of projects developed from this effort that actually did reach a very large and interested segment of the public whom who wouldn't normally think of as being particularly interested in historical subjects. In fact, we found that there is a huge amount of interest in these topics. Again, the federal support began with a federal commission for the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Constitution so that model has already been pursued to some degree.
One of the key components was a special initiative on the part of the National Endowment for the Humanities that does offer support for scholarship as well as programs for teaching, support for media programs, support for libraries to do programming for the public as well, so one possible recommendation the Commission may make is to encourage a special initiative on the part of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the area of women's history. One of the things that the Endowment for the Humanities did for the bicentennial was to offer a series of planning grants. These are small grants that can be extremely helpful to organizations interested in developing programs along these lines and need a little extra support in order to do some really concerted thinking.
The advantage of having an organization like the National Endowment for the Humanities, even if the dollar amount of the resources is not great, the show of federal interest is a signal to private funders, to corporations, and to private foundations interested in educational programs, that this is an area worth donating their resources to. In addition to the kinds of support that we can get from the National Endowment for the Humanities, there are other federal agencies. I'm sure that you've heard a great deal of discussion about them already--the National Archives, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress--all stage special programming on behalf of the Bicentennial of the Constitution.
I think, again, with some support for a new focus that we can see those organizations devoting the resources that they already have at hand to a special effort to be made on the history of American women. In part, that would be appropriate because I think that the dynamism of the field has not yet made itself apparent to a lot of these institutions. The exploration of gender, and the way that ideas about gender affect ideas about race, the intersection of all of these understanding has created some very exciting new scholarship. During the Bicentennial of the Constitution, one of the things that the scholarly associations did was to create a network of scholars and I think it is safe to say that we would be more than happy to perform this same function to the extent that any of these organizations are interested in pursuing these programs. The Organization of American Historians would be delighted to be able to provide some suggestions about experts--experts in every area of the country.
One of the really dynamic parts about the celebrations I was talking about was that it was not Washington based, it was really a national effort and it drew on the resources of the state humanities councils and local library systems and public school systems all across the country. We have historians on women in just about every community and we would be happy to provide help in locating experts to assist with this effort. Let me stop there and ask if there are any questions.
Ann Lewis thanked Dr. Cynthia Harrison and asked if the Commission had any questions.
Beth Newburger mentioned Dr. Harrison's comment about recommendations the Commission may make related to basic scholarship and asked for more specific routes to ensure these recommendations are made.
Dr. Cynthia Harrison suggested working cooperatively with the National Endowment for the Humanities which offers grants to scholars enabling them to do research. She stressed the importance of this funding to enable subsidized time off to complete writing and grants which allow scholars to travel to manuscript depositories. In addition she cited private foundations such as the Rockefeller and the Gugenheimer Foundations which provide grants and scholarships.
Another important aspect of basic scholarship Dr. Harrison stressed was to provide the materials necessary for research and publication such as documentary collections of women's papers which could be attained through commissions like the National Historical Publications and Records Commission .
Ann Lewis thanked Dr. Cynthia Harrison and introduced Dr. Janet Hauber. Dr. Hauber is the immediate past President of the Math/Science Network, and Program Manager of the Nuclear Cities Initiative at the United States Department of Energy.
Dr. Janet Hauber
Founded in 1974 by people who were concerned about the lack of female peers in the workplaces of those employed by government and industry, and by the lack of young women in the math and science classrooms of those who taught high school and college, the Math/Science Network's major goal is to increase the participation, retention, and advancement of girls and women in mathematics, science, engineering, and technology. The Network's programs are based on two assumptions. First of all, for young women to even have the option to enter math and science careers, they must first choose to take appropriate mathematics and science courses in school. Second, successful intervention strategies are those that nurture enjoyment and confidence in mathematics, connect mathematics courses to career opportunities, actively encourage girls to persevere in mathematics courses, and provide opportunities to experience math and science with women role models who have scientific careers.
In 1976, the Math/Science Network created Expanding Your Horizons in Science and Mathematics as a grassroots volunteer-based intervention strategy designed to nurture girls' interest in mathematics and science courses and to encourage them to expand their career visions to include science-based and mathematics-based careers. The primary focus of Expanding Your Horizons is the opportunity to take part in exciting hands-on workshops with women workshop leaders who work in technological careers. It is the opportunity to ask the real questions of the real people: "How hard was it for you?"; "Were you a brain in math?"; "Do you have children and a career?"; "Do men at work laugh at you?" More importantly, it is a chance for girls without technical role models to meet successful women professionals and, for the first time in their lives, to imagine themselves in these rewarding careers.
Since the first conference at Mills College in Oakland in 1976, more than 465,000 young women, and about 55,000 parents and educators have attended EYH Conferences. Tens of thousands of women and men have organized the conferences and presented workshops at them. Over 97% of these people have been volunteers, as was Dr. Ellen Ochoa when she participated in several EYH conferences in California. Last year, we presented 113 conferences in 29 states, reaching almost 36,000 young women.
But enough of background, let me turn to what I think this Commission is most interested in and that is what the Commission might do from our perspective. We believe that an important element of any celebration of the contributions of women to our nation's history should include women's contributions to mathematics, science, and invention. The contributions of women in these fields and technical knowledge of the United States is significant, yet they remain largely ignored. Textbooks have little or nothing to say about women scientists, mathematicians, and engineers. There is virtually no mention of women inventors in our nation's history books. Like the fabled tree falling in the forest, one might well ask, "if a woman invents something and no one except the Patent Office knows about it, is it really an invention?"
As a few of you may know, Admiral Grace Hopper created the computer language COBOL as well as the fist software "compiler" that made possible programming in something other than binary code. But how many of us are familiar with the work of Dr. Katherine Blodgett, the physicist whose coatings made possible distortion-free lenses, or the work of Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown whose inventions of a new anti-fungal drug significantly reduced complications from these wounds.
Based on our experience with EYH and our own experiences as women in scientific careers, we urge that the Commission keep in mind two things. First, whatever is done to celebrate women in American history, more people will experience it if the celebration comes to where they live rather than having people come to the celebration. Second, and most importantly for young people, we believe it is critical that you encourage the inclusion of hands-on activities.
I personally vividly recall the day in my childhood when the Freedom Train came to my home town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin bringing the rich heritage and history of America to us. There, on a Midwest railroad siding, were the documents that framed the independence of the United States of America along with the stories and artifacts of the founding of our nation. I'll never forget that exhibit. Similarly, the recent touring exhibit of the Smithsonian brought parts of this museum and United States history to thousands of families, for whom Washington D.C. is a destination they will never reach. In San Jose, California and in other cities, families packed this exhibit every day from its opening to its closing.
While we want to utilize every possible means of distribution of resources that implement this celebration, from curriculum development to the Internet, twenty years of positive results with EYH have taught us that there is no substitute for the right stuff--real contact, real hands-on activity with real people. Other media, no matter how interactive, cannot adequately replace the opportunity to do something with hands-on, and to talk to real people. Based on our experience we hope that in crafting the celebration the Commission will do five things:
There are, we are certain, many other wonderful ways to celebrate the roles and accomplishments of women in American history. But our perspective is that of science and math--hands-on activities to be sure, as is the making of history. We urge you to consider that as the making of history is a hands-on activity, so too should be the learning of it. Let people get their hands in it, let them roam the Web finding it, asking questions about it, examining its artifacts, and pondering its breadth.
Let them follow those women past and present who found wonder in the universe and set out to take it apart and see how it worked. We want the public to see and appreciated the accomplishments of Maria Mitchell, the first person to discover a comet using a telescope. We want young women to peer over the shoulder of Barbara McClintock as she makes her Nobel Prize-winning discovery that chromosomes are not fixed as previously thought. We want people to appreciate the courage of Rachel Carson as she testified before Congress to alert the Nation to the harmful long-term effect of misusing pesticides. We want the public to join with Margaret Mead as she taught generations of Americans about the value of studying other cultures to better understand our own. We want young women to appreciate the visionary accomplishments of Admiral Hopper as she advanced the controversial idea that computers could be programmed using plain English, that people other than mathematicians could use them, and she made it happen.
After experiencing the history of women, let the word "scientist" call to mind not only Jonas Salk, but also pioneering women such as Barbara McClintock. When we can accomplish this goal, we can truly celebrate women in American history. In closing, let me thank you once more for inviting us here. We are grateful to have this chance to present our views to you, and we deeply appreciate the Commission's efforts to honor and celebrate the accomplishments of American women. We wish you success as you pursue your work.
Ann Lewis thanked Dr. Hopper and asked if the Commission had any questions.
Ellen Ochoa agreed that meeting real people is a very important component and attributes the success of the Expand Your Horizons program to this interaction. She also stressed that the interaction is not only important to the girls, but also to the women who are involved, relaying her own positive experiences working with young women. She supported Dr. Hopper's suggestion of initiating an exhibit at the local level as a positive thing for both the community and the women and girls involved.
Ellen Ochoa also mentioned that when the Commission first met, she tried to recall groups involved in math and science who have put the spotlight on women. She came up with nothing. She was pleased to note that since the Commission's creation, the National Academy of Engineering created an Internet site called the Celebration of Women in Engineering Project which highlights women engineers each week. She will provide an address for the site to Ruby.
Ann Lewis thanked Dr. Hauber and acknowledged Molly MacGregor in the audience. Ms. MacGregor is the founder of the National Women's History Project which among its list of accomplishments is the creation of National Women's History Month . She proceeded to introduce Dr. Marsha Semmel, Director and CEO of the Women of the West Museum scheduled to open by the year 2001.
Dr. Marsha Semmel
I was hired as the first Director of the museum and I began in January and so I've had about ten months with this project. As many of the speakers that you've heard this afternoon have said, the past twenty-five years have seen exciting new scholarship on the history of women in the American West. However, as you've also heard, so many of the materials remain deeply hidden in existing museum, library, and archival collections--or are simply undiscovered. Precious little is available to the public especially in those important popular-culture media of museum exhibitions, films, television programs, or classroom materials.
So our museum is dedicated to taking Western women's history beyond Annie Oakley, beyond Sacajawea, even beyond the diaries of the pioneer women on the Oregon Trail...beyond the dime-novel gunfighters, beyond the mining camp prostitutes. We want to introduce the public, not even to those stories, but to the leadership of the Civil Rights Struggle in San Francisco in the mid-19th century, to the potters of the Santa Clara Pueblo, and to the scientists at Los Alamos. At our museum, these women will take their places with the history-makers of today. The linkage between past, present, and future is really central to our notion for the museum.
Our museum focusses on a region, the American West, and I think probably everyone here could testify the West as a place, process, myth, and reality which continues to exert a powerful hold on the American imagination. For many it has been, or still is, the embodiment of the American dream. Yet, perhaps more than any region in the country, the West has remained a stubbornly male domain, and most familiar images of Western women are hopelessly stereotyped or one-dimensional. The women of the West, like women throughout the country, built communities, made homes, started businesses, and sustained families. In fact, they were leaders in the National Suffrage movement. Their stories are central to our understanding of this region and our national heritage.
When Toni started the Museum in 1991, she quickly assembled a National Board of Trustees, an eighty-member National Advisory group with some wonderful luminaries on it. She invited, and we are honored, that all five former First Ladies serve as honorary trustees. We are looking forward to January 2001 when we hope that Hillary Rodham Clinton will join their ranks as an honorary trustee of the Women of the West Museum, and Ann you spoke about us opening in 2001--I have a slight correction. We decided we are open right now as a museum without walls so we are already, even though we don't have our beautiful building yet, we are already beginning to present educational programs, exhibits, and other projects.
In our aspiration to be a museum that reaches out to the 21st, we are emphasizing three important dimensions that I think are of interest to the Commission. Because you have heard from many of our speakers it is very important that we don't confine women's history to objects in cases in static exhibits in traditional museum exhibit halls and I think that is extremely essential. So our three elements of emphasis right now are community service, cultural heritage trails, and technology. All of these fit well with the First Lady's Millennium theme "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future." We hope that through these emphases we can enrich people's lives by encouraging them to recognize their own stories against the backdrop of larger themes in American history.
I absolutely agree that the way history is learned is by getting people involved in understanding historical evidence and in hands-on activities. So I will just mention a couple of the projects we are doing right now. We are partnering with the Boulder Valley YWCA on a girls' empowerment program. A group of teenage girls are making a historical documentary on women in the West. We are providing some of the content, but they are shaping the story, they are doing the research, and they will be producing the documentary from soup to nuts. We will be showing it on regional television this Spring.
We also recently partnered with our state humanities council to bring the founder of the Nicodemus historical society to Denver. She has worked with people in her community to make of the first settled African-American communities west of the Mississippi River a national historic landmark and make it more visible to people. It was a wonderful program because she talked to people about families, about women, and about building communities.
One of the most exciting programs we are doing right now is to work with an elementary school in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver. This is the elementary school that is a historic landmark--it is the school that Mamie Doud attended as a young girl and it is also the neighborhood that Molly Brown lived in. What we are doing is we are working with 120 fourth and fifth graders, four teachers, the principal, the PTA, the neighborhood association, the Colorado historical society, and a couple of local historians to create a women's history trail. Students are going to do the research, they are going to decide which areas should be highlighted, they are going to publish a guide and they are going to lead tours of the neighborhood. We are hoping that this could be a prototype for some programs we could do in the future. That is actually a segway into our next big emphasis.
I believe that the movement to not only highlight individual sites but those pathways between sites in the recognition of cultural heritage trails is a very important one. We at the Women of the West Museum see the West itself, the landscape of the West, the rural West, and the urban West, as a platform for making women's stories visible. So our Trails Project will create imagined and real trails that identify places of meaning and memory for women. It will call attention to existing historic sites and already designated historic trails, but it will move beyond the walls of libraries, memorials, and historic houses to hopefully define some new pathways--pathways of ordinary women and extraordinary women across time and across cultures that give families, tourists, school children, adults, and neighborhoods a new way of understanding the history that is in our back yard and along the highway.
We hope that the Trails Project will explore the role of place and mobility in the West, the West as a meeting ground of people and cultures, fertile ground for creative women artists and writers, building ground for families and communities, and testing ground for the American values of democracy, freedom, and equality. We are developing a number of components for these trails, one of which will hopefully create some animated characters that will be used for children's adventures associated with women of the West.
Last, our emphasis is on technology. We believe that technology has enormous promise for expanding the reach and accessibility of women's history. We would like to create a digital library based on gathering and putting in digital form all of the existing resources and I mean artifacts, images, film clips, recording clips, documents, letters, and diaries into an accessible on-line resource about women's history of the west. We have already begun some conversations with partner institutions about that. This could be an extraordinary treasure that would not only be available throughout this country, but internationally. Finally, we are also getting our website up and running and the key to our website is that it is going to be a virtual museum, it is going to feature on-line exhibits, interviews with modern women of the West, the use of historical evidence and activities that get you to discover how we know what we know, and also opportunities for sharing stories and experiences. It is key to our plan to link this site to other existing cites about women's issues and women's history.
In my view, the Commission could use your leadership role, your presidential mandate to do many of the things you have heard before: to highlight existing repositories and stories, to make new stories visible, and to assist local communities and cultural organizations in the work we've already begun. Funds available for educational programs, targeted monies for digitizing historical resources, special funding opportunities through the national agencies, publications, and a national communications plan emphasizing the central role of women in the American story are all promising strategies.
We believe that we have a very important role to play in bringing into the light the stories and contributions of so many women whose activities have built America. Again through partnerships, through technology, and through recognizing the history that is already there in our neighborhoods, our cities, and our byways, we hope that we can achieve our mission. Thank you very much.
Ann Lewis thanked Marsha Semmel and inquired about the time table for the student trails project.
Marsha Semmel responded that the project was initiated last Fall and should be completed in the Spring. She mentioned that they had several college interns involved and high school students so the project has continually picked up momentum.
Ellen Ochoa asked if Marsha Semmel had any fundraising experiences to share or words of wisdom to pass on.
Marsha Semmel stressed that whatever a museum does it has to add value to the community. She also communicated that simply saying that you are going to preserve materials for posterity without being able to link what you are doing to the needs of people in different communities is going to be very very hard. She relayed a reaction she received from a friend in Denver and urged that the Commission follow his advice: "I like your museum a lot, but I would get a lot more passionate about it if you would take two words to heart: foment change."
Dr. Barbara Goldsmith inquired about interns and whether or not they receive college credit for their work.
Marsha Semmel responded that the interns they've used did receive credit. The interns from their project have been archival students and History, Library Studies, and Women's History majors.
Ann Lewis introduced Ellie Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Working For Women's Equality.
How many times have we heard that women are simply given the right to vote? For example, a gift, mind you, that has taken two generations of women who have sacrificed their lives in the struggle to win it. So we want the Women's Movement not to be seen just as one subject of women's history but as an integral part of the overall narrative on women in history in the United States.
Without also acknowledging the role of the opposition to the women's movement we think a history cannot be fully understood. Susan B. Anthony, I used to say, in speech after speech fought someone all of those years. I think not to recognize this organized opposition is to paint a little picture--somehow women didn't want it or something. The reality of the Women's Movement is that we have faced active resistance every inch of the way and if we are ever to learn how we are to win equality we must expose this opposition; for example, the opposition of the liquor industry to women's suffrage, or the opposition of corporate interests to the Equal Rights Amendment campaign. Indeed, perhaps a more touchy subject, but one that must be recorded, the opposition of the Catholic church to both birth control and abortion. These are just a few of the areas that should be covered if we are to understand why so often dreams of women have failed because of the superior resources and the sustained campaign of these opponents.
Moreover, in the recording of history, I am sure everybody said this but we want to make sure that we are recorded as saying it--it must be multi-racial, and must look at the accomplishments of women across cross-lines. African-American women, Latina women, Asian women, and women of all ethnic groups can not be left out of our nations' history. We must proclaim the connections between the Women's Movement and also all of the other great movements for social change of our day and of the past. No history of the Abolitionist movement, the Labor movement, or the Civil Rights movement can be accurate without including the role of feminist activists and the Women's movement itself in these other movements and vice-versa. There was a dynamic interchange between all of the reform movements in our time and in the past.
We also wish that in the preservation of women's accomplishments that we tell the whole story. It is a disservice to women, a discredit to the history of women and our movement to recount only our successful strategies and our successful campaigns. We must also study those plans and ideas that have failed. By analyzing both our widely-accepted ideas as well as our more radical solutions, the popular and the unpopular, our history will be the whole story and not just what is politically palatable at a given time. Towards this end the Feminist Majority Foundation published in 1984 what we call the Feminist Chronicles from 1953-1993. Its purpose was to chronicle just in little vignettes the day-to-day struggles to empower women and to make them equal players in the United States and across the world.
We are currently engaged in creating the Feminist Chronicles of the 20th Century. This work is a little more than half-done and it will go obviously all through the century. It will also be cross-indexed and referenced so that historians and modern workers in the field will know what happened and what event forwarded either equal pay or women in science, or sports or medicine--all the great areas and all of the important areas of our time. Right now we have our Feminist Chronicles on our website and it is indexed and referenced so students today can use it if they forgot who won the Soap Box Derby and what year and what state women finally got into it. You can find it in the Feminist Chronicles via the web site which has been used by students.
In addition, our Board Chair, Peg Yorken, is funding with Dell Publications an Encyclopedia series called Women in World History. To say that it is an ambitious topic is an understatement. I think it is eleven volumes, but it goes from around 300 B.C. all the way to present time. They started the project thinking it would highlight a few hundred people or maybe a few thousand people, but they have over 10,000 entries. It is across the world and I think it could be a great resource.
One of the things historians have found, and they have used hundreds of historians throughout the country and world, is that there are so many more contributions than we ever envision because we have been so systematically written out of history. Because of our commitment to history and women in our movement, the Feminist Majority Foundation has also promised to re-print Feminist classics that are currently out of print. Our first effort is Matilla Jocelyn Gage's Women, Church, and State and it just came out. It is just magnificent and if you want copies, we brought copies of this for the panel. The historian, as you know, was at Seneca Falls and she has done a great deal of historical research on Matilla Jocelyn Gage. Matilla Jocelyn Gage was equal with Stanton and Anthony, but over time she has been written out of history because of her more radical ideas. So we thought we should look at her ideas again...they must be worth something if they went through that effort to take her out of history.
We find the challenge to our historians and historians in the future is infinitely more complicated because of the wealth of multi-media resources in this information age. At the same time the Feminist Movement has never been better documented. The history of the Women's Movement in the latter half of the 20th century is recounted not only in printed materials, newspaper reports, and published sources, but also in radio and television broadcasts. The Feminist Majority Foundation's Media Archival Center on the West coast records all programming and coverage of Feminist news and events on all National networks. It has been doing this since the late 70's, our archives go back to '75 and approximately eleven local television stations in the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. What that means is at any one time we have eleven recording devices on all channels. Anything significant on the subject of women in any way you could imagine it we are recording.
When we started this project I though it was crazy myself but one of our Board members is a historian, Toni Carrabilla, who said they will record what is in the New York Times, they will record what is in the Washington Post, but what's going on in that television set is affecting day and public opinion more than anything else and it is going to go up in neither. We've got to get it. We said "You know Toni they are going to do it, the networks have their libraries, bla bla bla." And they did, but what happened was it became too voluminous, and so I don't know if you know but they have been destroying it. So there is essentially no massive documentation or archives. Things that make money, of course their re-runs are very valuable, but I am talking about the news and documenting things that maybe are not as lucrative. Our source is the only such source in the Nation, and now, this might get you, even the networks are using our archives for research.
We think there is a lot to this, and we hope that others do it. We frankly have to raise the money to make sure that it is preserved, but we would like to encourage that this type of project funds future recording efforts in other parts of the country because all of this makes a living history. If we could only have seen Thomas Jefferson do the Declaration of Independence you know it would have been great, but we can see future leaders and women's leaders and if we record it we will see a lot more.
Any modern day economy of women's history must include databases and also materials archived and published on the Internet because of its growing influence on public opinion. That is another area that we have to capture. I would now like to turn specifically to the questions posed by your Commission. In light of how much there is to be done again we say that what your Commission is doing is crucial. However, you would be disappointed I know, if I didn't have some caveats or recommendations for change.
I would like to actually question the theme "Honor the Past, Imagine the Future." I do this knowing that you shouldn't quibble about things like that but I am just throwing this out as a title. I will tell you why I want to question the "Honor the Past." I will throw out a title like "Know the Past, Envision the Future." Now why do I question "Honor the Past." Much of our nation's past is not honorable, especially in our treatment of women and racial minorities. Our country in the past has denied women education, property, professional opportunities, and the most basic rights of citizenship and humanity. Women have been enslaved, indentured, and exploited. The mainstream of our past must be understood in its essential cruelty towards women. I say that passionately, I don't read well, speeches, but I can't tell you just think of the dreams of our foremothers, think about the way that they were treated, and know the past so we don't ever live it again in the future.
The movement for women's rights must not be romanticized or reduced. The movement must be understood in its full context. Not only should we recognize the struggle for women's suffrage, but if we are going to fulfill the dreams of our feminist foremothers we must know the complete vision, understand their opposition, and recognize the movement's full and partial victories. Nor must we sensor their vision to what we view today as politically popular, and I can't say that strong enough. They were not just after Suffrage, that was just step one. Much of their dreams have not been realized today and they were complete visionaries and thinkers. The leaders of the early Women's Rights Movement were far-thinking, complicated individuals who deserve to have their lives work thoroughly understood and accorded the same level of respect that we give to our founding fathers, rather than being treated as a limited, special interest group concerned only about women's suffrage.
I must also take issue with the assumption that women's history is now adequately told in memorials, libraries, and historic houses throughout the country. Over the past twenty-five years I have traveled across this Nation for women's rights. There are very few cities and towns that I have not participated in Feminist meetings, events, and discussions. I must say that there are very very few existing facilities specializing in women's history. Those that do exist are under-funded and some are rapidly deteriorating. I commend the development of the National Women's Historical Park, but this park has far too few resources, it is very small. When you consider that it is the principle monument to the achievement of the 19th century Women's Movement you realize just how small it is, and I am very proud of it because I know when it was smaller, and I know when it didn't exist. That is my home-stomping area. Basically, we deserve, as half of the human race, so much more. That is not to underestimate what the historical park means or what the forest park people have done there. I am just saying that we deserve a lot more money.
Millions of school children and adult visitors tour Washington D.C. every year. We have monument upon monument and museum upon museum honoring our forefathers and glorifying our soldiers and generals of war, not only our soldiers and generals, but if you look at some of these monuments they've got other nationalities soldiers and generals-- God forbid we should leave any of them out. Meanwhile, the Women's Movement has had to fight for seven decades to have one statue commemorate just some of our women's rights foremothers to be placed in an honorable position in the capital. With the new exception of Eleanor Roosevelt, taking that as an exception, there are essentially no monuments in the Nation's capital dedicated to women. I have walked around, it enrages me and is one of my pastimes. Every man you ever thought of we have a picture of and it is on some wall. So anyway I think we need to do something about this.
I have also personally toured and reviewed the holdings at the Schlesinger Library at the radical, at Radcliffe college, yeah radical it ain't. I hate to say that but its largest collection is cookbooks, forget it. The collection at Smith College, the Duke Library collection (that is my alma mater), the Smithsonian American History Museum, and the Library of Congress as it holds all of its archives in women's history and women's history figures...I have met extensively with the administrators of these facilities as a part of on-going discussions regarding the preservations of our papers, the National Organization for Women, and my own personal papers.
All of these facilities are under-funded when it comes to the preservation of materials related to the history of the Women's Rights Movement. It is serious. The preservation of the cookbooks and the dresses of the First Ladies take priority over the preservation of historical documents on the second wave of Feminism that has affected the lives of every man, woman, and child in this Nation.
I would also like to make some specific suggestions, now that I did that sort of harshly, that I think could be a great help and could be done immediately. First is the funding for the Women's History Project. Molly is back there and I didn't know she'd be here, but I am saying this because I think they did a brilliant job of getting us Women's History Month, but this gallant project is grossly under-funded. It is still the number one provider of women's history materials to elementary, secondary, and college campuses. It needs more funding and if we are going to get into the hands of every school child and into the universities, this wonderful project that deals with a whole range of history, including math and science and politics and every field, it deserves public funding of a major source.
Second, the Sewall-Belmont House which is owned by the National Women's Party is in desperate need of funding to preserve the documents of the 19th century and the early 20th century Women's Movement. I don't know if any of you have been to the library there it needs funding and it needs funding now. I think that because of lack of funds this precious women's history resource is in jeopardy and it could be lost to us. In fact I am very worried about losing the papers of the last century because each of the various facilities throughout the country are under-funded.
Without question in the Nation's capital there should be a major historical site dedicated to the struggles and achievements of women--a living museum that documents not only women's history but also is a resource for women's future. I would like to salute the outstanding efforts of the women's studies departments and women scholars, who without adequate funding this is really a labor of love, have contributed significantly to our understanding of women's history. The combination of their pioneering work and with adequate funding we have the capacity to create a first-rate women's historical museum and center. When I say a living center I mean a center that would have conferences and educational events and really would study equality. But it is not going to happen without major public government funding. I know there will be small private efforts, but it deserves and needs public funding.
There is much to be done to truly incorporate women's history into the recognized history of this Nation, but I must stress it can only be done with adequate resources. I hope that this Commission seeks ample funding to accurately recount the achievements of women in the Women's Movement who despite overwhelming odds have achieved so much. Thank you.
Ann Lewis thanked Ellie Smeal and introduced Elise Bryant, Senior Staff Associate at the George Meany Center for Labor Studies.
In the name of my mother, Blanche Garrett Bryant, who scrubbed floors on her hands and knees in the homes of the wealthy in Grosse Point, Michigan. For Florence Reese who wrote,
For Anne Romaine, a singer and union supporter who died from a ruptured appendix, was neither Black nor an immigrant, nor poor, but was a working artist who died because she had no health coverage.
For Ah Quon McElrath, the only woman and the first social worker on the staff of the Longshorman's union in Hawaii.
For Gloria Johnson, who in the 1950's was removed from her hospital bed right here in Washington, D.C. when it was discovered, in the words of one nurse, "Girl, is you colored?"
For Dolores Huerta, Jessie De La Cruze, Esther Peterson, and Julie Whitepigeon. For all the women who work inside the home and outside the home, who have gone before me and those yet to come, I stand before you a living reminder of the strength of working women and the solidarity of union sisterhood.
Since the dawn of time, the hands of working women have rocked the cradle, and, indeed, rocked the world. When our history is retold and monuments are built, I want to be sure that the voice of the humblest among us is not lost in the clamor for the rich, the famous, the best, and the brightest. I hope that my children and Ah Qon's children and Dolores' children and Julie Whitepigeon's children will be able to look into the eyes of their ancestors and say, "there but for the work on my foremother go I."
In this glorious undertaking, to restore our heritage to mainstream culture let us also remember that music, movement, the visual arts, the written and spoken word is the food that feeds our souls. Indeed the word "culture" comes from the Latin meaning, "care." When we cultivate the land we care for it, when we teach our history using the arts we honor the creator in every woman-- past, present and future.
I add my voice to the recommendations offered to this commission by my sister, Brigid O'Farrell:
Work closely with AFT and NEA to reach teachers and schools.
Use existing federal programs to support the commission and state-based women's historical museums already in existence.
I also want to add to the recommendations of my sister Gloria Johnson who suggestedworking with the AFL-CIO constituency groups like Coalition for Union Women, Coalition for Black Trade Unionists, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, and Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and Pride at Work--the organization representing Gay, Lesbian, and Trans-gender trade unionists. By working with these groups this Commission would be reaching into the heart of the communities of color and other marginalized populations.
In addition I would suggest:
The Commission contacts the University and College Labor Education Association (UCLEA) which represents labor education and labor studies programs around the country. UCLEA could identify research, books, publications, and archival sources. Both the George Meany Center archives here in Detroit, MI, despite the fact that they are named after two dead white men, do have extensive holdings on working women and trade union women.
Join with American libraries, publishers, and community groups to ensure our libraries have books, films, tapes, and other materials relating to working and trade union women. The Michigan Women Studies Association has already begun a book-buying project for Michigan libraries. Some union locals also have an "adopt a library" fund.
Work with state councils for the arts, humanities, and labor history societies to identify performing artists, playwrights, and other artists whose work is focussed on women and work. I know of at least four women who perform one-woman shows based on the life of Mother Mary Jones--not the least of them being Ronnie Gilbert, legendary member of the famous folk group, the Weavers. There could be touring productions and at the very minimum a directory of artists and/or events.
Let us unravel the tapestry of Eurocentric, male-dominated, commonly called American History and re-weave it (after all, the word "history" comes from the Greek "histos" meaning "web") like our ancient mothers:
Let's re-weave it with all the color, the art, the craft, and the work that women do. I'll close with the words of Sojourner Truth: "If the first woman that God made was able to turn this world upside down all by herself, then these women here today ought to be able to get it back and turn it right-side up again! I'm much obliged for y'all listening to me and now old Sojourner ain't got nothing more to say."
Ann Lewis thanked Ms. Bryant and opened up the floor for public comments.
Glandea Clark, General
Silvia Evans, National
Latina Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender Organization
Ann Timmons, Independent
actor and performer
Milagros Batista Thanked Ms. Elise Bryant. She came from Washington Heights, New York and stressed the importance of including women and immigrant women in our nation's history. Expressed that a lot of young women are confused and need to know their heritage. She also stressed that knowing their history will allow young women to identify with their foremothers.
Christine Abrahamson As a future teacher she wanted to encourage the establishment of specific requirements for teaching women's history in school systems. She also wanted to encourage the establishment of requirements for high school and elementary school students to do some sort of project in honor of Women's History Month. Finally, she asked how the Commision plans to go about involving people and getting the word out about the site.
Isabelle Garcia, National
Department of Transportation
Ann Lewis asked about the Department of Transportation's interest in the history trails.
Devonhall Robinson said that she would relay the information about the history trails back to the Department.
Dr. Kaurala Edwards, Indian
American Leadership Council
Jantzen Bridges Feels that women's history should be integrated into mainstream history and not just celebrated one month out of the year.
Karen Mittelman Shared with the group her own experiences as a child listening to her mother's songs and stories. Although she supports new initiatives in all of the areas because her own sense of history came from her experience as a little girl, she wants to put the focus on popular culture.
Jean Bezdek Expressed concern over the women who either did not have the financial resources to come to Washington or couldn't afford to take a day off of work. Urged that the Commision consider holiday weekend meetings.
Ann Lewis thanked the speakers and announced that she would conclude the first day of the fourth conference by reading the testimony of Lynn Sherr.
The following is the prepared written testimony of Lynn Sherr read by Ann Lewis at the fourth meeting.
Many thanks for your kind invitation to speak at your November 12-13 meeting in Washington. Unfortunately, I am unable to attend, but have tried to summarize my thoughts below. Perhaps you could read it in my place at your meeting. Anyway, here goes:
As you are probably aware, my interest in and commitment to this subject are tied to my three decades of reporting on the Women's Movement and the books I have written, including Failure is Impossible: Susan B. Anthony In Her Own Words (Times Books, 1994) and Susan B. Anthony Slept Here: A Guide to American Women's Landmarks (Times Books, 1995, co-authored with Jurate Kazickas).
One of my goals in doing all this is to make people--especially female people, and most especially young female people--aware of the very rich heritage we have as American women. Unfortunately, it is a monumental task. Ironically, it hasn't changed much in the last century. As my personal hero, Susan B. Anthony put it in 1894, 26 years before women got the right to vote:
A year earlier, she had used even blunter language:
In other words, how times have changed!
As a result, I think our task is twofold: we need to remind young women and tell young men of the modern history of the movement--what it took to get them to the table, and why it's good for all of us. In addition, we need to inform everyone--male and female, young and old--of the strong and innovative women who came before us, long before us, and make it clear that we have a history.
One of the obvious ways to guarantee that our history remains prominent is to keep women in high, visible positions in government, in business, in the arts, in sports. They are the primary keepers of the flame, or should be. Second-best is a continuing education effort. I strongly support recent efforts by counties, cities, and states (notably New York) to identify landmarks of women's history and mark them appropriately. The presence of "women's heritage trails" is a great way to learn, not to mention to be entertained, and more should be encouraged. A corollary to this is that individuals and institutions should be invited to preserve sites that are specific to women's history, particularly those pertaining to African-American or Native-American women. Too many have been raised for parking lots in recent years.
I also support the introduction of women's history events in our schools--and by history I mean both modern history (it would be nice if kids learned that no one ever burned a bra) and ancient (guess what, kids--we didn't always have the right to vote). Ideally, this should be integrated into regular history classrooms and textbooks.
Finally, a special plea. Since no American woman's birthday is celebrated as a national holiday, I humbly propose that February 15, Susan B. Anthony's birthday, be considered. It could stand on its own or fit conveniently into the already-established President's Day events. She was, after all, President of the National American Women Suffrage Association. It would inspire a host of historical commentary and it would be most appropriate. During her own lifetime, Anthony's birthday was celebrated with increasingly more prestigious parties attended by women and men and members of the Congress and always acknowledged by the President of the United States. By the time she was in her 80's, suffrage organizers issued a calendar with photos and pithy sayings sold to raise money for the suffrage cause, of course, and on February 15, right after St. Valentine's Day, was the charming notation, "Saint Susan's Day."
We could use a saintly reason to celebrate today.
I wish you good luck with your efforts, and I would be delighted to talk further with you about this very worthwhile project.
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Martha Davis can be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (202)501-0705