A Woman Built This: Place-Based Evidence of Female Crisis Management

National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites Endorsed by the BHC

Thursday, April 27, 2023, 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM

Type: Pre-circulated Paper Presentation

Tags: Local and Community History; Public History and Memory; Women's History

Abstract

Examples of women operating outside the bounds of legal authority and social norms abound. Yet, public perceptions of female behavior remain tradition-bound despite evidence to the contrary. This session focuses on three examples of women who, in a time, and in a place, played essential roles in building and sustaining communities. Did they gain influence because of a crisis? Did law and social norms change to accommodate them? Did the changes persist or disappear? Were these examples of accomplishment systematically forgotten, or did other factors contribute to collective forgetting? What role do historic sites play in remembering? The examples take attendees from coast to coast (Maryland, Michigan, and California) with a focus on the mid- to late-nineteenth century. Each presenter will lay their historiographic groundwork, and then will discuss sources and research strategies that yielded new information about women (single and married), their economic influence, and their lasting contributions. Each will address the ways that crises afforded opportunities for women, and how historic preservation and history museums can make these women more visible and memorable. In 1850 Sacramento, California, men outnumbered women as much as 8 to 1, and history has credited the men for the development of the city. This interpretation leaves out the key roles that women of all nationalities played in that development. Many women stepped beyond their roles as wives, mothers, caregivers, and homemakers to start businesses, acquire land and become politically engaged shaping their communities and choosing to not give up their newfound power. Old Sacramento (a National Historic Landmark District) plays a key role in uncovering the stories of these women through the buildings and businesses they built and defining their contributions to the development of the city. The Henry Ford, a museum in Dearborn, Michigan, will open a reconstructed vegetable market building from Detroit's historic Central Market in April 2022. Female customers and vendors, young and old, single and married, who frequented the public market factor heavily in the interpretation plan. Their histories indicate that many variables (age, legal status, class, race, and ethnicity) affected personal autonomy which in turn affected their responses to external crises. And crises abounded, ranging from changing market regulations, state laws, the Civil War, Xenophobia, and economic depressions between the 1840s and 1890s. A research project in Maryland confirms the value of timelines to reveal who, what, and how we remember the development of a town, city, state. Most standard timelines exclude women. In Rockville, a suburb outside of DC, a new timeline of women’s rights was applied to the nineteenth-century townswomen and what transpired led to a new story: Women acting as capitalists and not merely as consumers. Their legacy endures and is preserved in development tracts and street names throughout the city as well as their homes that survive.

Papers Presented

Women and Food Security in Detroit, 1840s-1890s

A reconstructed vegetable building from Detroit's historic Central Market opens in The Henry Ford in April 2022 as the hub of a new Edible Education initiative. Female vendors, young and old, single and married, factor heavily in the interpretation plan. Their histories indicate how many factors (age, legal status, class, race, and ethnicity) affected personal autonomy which in turn affected their responses to external crises. And crises abounded, ranging from changing market regulations, state laws, the Civil War, Xenophobia, and economic depression. Married women, aided by Michigan’s married women’s property act (1844), charted their own course (to varying degrees of success) using a combination of business acumen, kinship networks, and visibility as hucksters in a busy public market. Single women also gravitated toward the market district where they tried to make a living in compliance with market regulations but also contributed to informal economies and sometimes defied social and cultural norms.

Presented By
Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford

Women Building Gold-Rush Sacramento

In 1850 Sacramento, men outnumbered women as much as 8 to 1, and history has credited the men for the development of the city. This interpretation leaves out the key roles that women of all nationalities played in that development. Extensive research on the buildings in Old Sacramento (a National Historic Landmark District) document several female property owners that up until now were listed as male because they used their first initial and not their full names (which previous researchers assumed were male). Additional research confirms that these women were extremely successful and wealthy. Three of them filed a complaint against the State for taxation without representation in the 1870s and one when she died was listed by the New York Times as one of the richest women in the United States. Collectively, this research calls into question traditional interpretations of the California Gold Rush as a male experience. Instead, many women stepped beyond their roles as wives, mothers, caregivers, and homemakers to start businesses, acquire land and become politically engaged shaping their communities and choosing to not give up their newfound power. Old Sacramento plays a key role in uncovering the stories of these women through the buildings and businesses they built and defining their contributions to the development of the city.

Presented By
Marcia Ann Eymann, Center for Sacramento History

Capitalist Women in the Countryside

Timelines are very important for they reveal who, what, and how we remember the development of a town, city, state. Most standard timelines exclude women. In Rockville, Maryland, a suburb outside of DC, a new timeline of women’s rights was applied to the nineteenth-century townswomen and what transpired led to a new story: Women acting as capitalists and not merely as consumers. Their legacy endures and is preserved in development tracts and street names throughout the city as well as their homes that survive.

Presented By
Mary van Balgooy, Independent Historian

Session Participants

Chair: Diana R. Pardue, Statue of Liberty NM and Ellis Island
Diana Pardue is Chief, Museum Services Division, Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island at the National Park Service. She has held several positions with the International Council of Museums (ICOM) including previously co-chairing the ICOM-US committee (2011-2014), serving as a board member on the ICOM Executive Board (2013-2019), and currently as president of ICOM’s Disaster Resilience Museums Committee. She is also past board member of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums (2004-2010) and is a member of the Research and Interpretation Committee of the National Collaborative for Women in Historic Sites.

Presenter: Marcia Ann Eymann, Center for Sacramento History
Marcia A. Eymann is the Historian for the City and County of Sacramento. She is also the Manager of the Center for Sacramento History managing the City and County’s historic collections. From 1990 to 2005 she served as the Curator of Historical Photography at the Oakland Museum curating numerous exhibitions. During her tenure at Oakland she managed many exhibition projects including Silver & Gold: Cased Images of the California Gold Rush (1998 which travel to the National Museum of American Art at the Smithsonian in 1999), Peacetime to War Time: The Photographs of Peter Stackpole, 1992, and Curator, What’s Going On? California and the Vietnam Era, in August 2004. In addition to her curatorial work, she is the coeditor of two books, Silver & Gold: Cased Images of the California Gold Rush (1998) with Drew Johnson, and What’s Going On? California and the Vietnam Era (2004) with Charles Wollenberg. Marcia is a native of Michigan and began her museum career at the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, working in their archives and as an exhibition project manager.

Commentator: Heather A. Huyck, National Collaborative for Women's History Sitess
Heather A. Huyck, a public historian, emphasizes the preservation and interpretation of all American women. He is Co-Chair of the Research and Interpretation Committee of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites dedicated to increasing the preservation and interpretation of women’s history at historic sites. Previously she was an adjunct/visiting Associate Professor, College of William & Mary in Africana Studies, American Studies, and Department of History (2002-2013) teaching Public History and Women’s History classes and bearing responsibility for partnerships and civic engagement projects. She was also Director of the Office of Strategic Planning, National Park Service, where she developed and implemented service-wide strategic planning and performance management. Her other NPS work included service as Chief, Division of Resource Management, National Capital Parks Central, Interpretive Specialist (Cultural Resources), Washington Office, Site Manager, Clara Barton National Historic Site, Park Technician/Researcher, Herbert Hoover N.H.S., Interpreter/Historian, George Washington Birthplace National Monument. She was also a professional staff member, U.S. House of Representatives, Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands (1987-1994). She is a Distinguished Lecturer with the OAH, received the AHA Feis Award in Public History (for Lifetime Achievement), and was an AHA/AAAS Congressional Fellow (1985-1986).
Publications include:
“Interpreting the Histories of American Women” Technical Leaflet #296, American
Association for State and Local History, Nashville, in press.
“Doing Women’s History in Public” Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Gender and Sexualities Trillium newsletter, August 2021. First of three blogs.
Doing Women’s History in Public: A Handbook for Interpretation at Museums and Historic Sites. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2020.
Best Practices in Interpretation at Historic Sites. Co-Editor with Margaret (Peg) Strobel. Santa Cruz: NCWHS, 2011.
Women’s History: Sites and Resources. Santa Cruz: NCWHS, 2009. Editor, 2nd edition.

Commentator: Katherine Jellison, Ohio University
Katherine Jellison, Professor of History at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio, has published two books: Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963 (University of North Carolina Press, 1993) and It’s Our Day: America’s Love Affair with the White Wedding, 1945-2005 (University Press of Kansas, 2008).
A third book is in revision (co-authored with Steven D. Reschly): Amish Women and the Rural Great Depression. Co-authored with Steven D. Reschly (Johns Hopkins University Press).
Her numerous articles (selected examples since 2015) address women and work, including:
« Les rapports de genre dans les campagnes : le cas des Amish » [“Gender Relations in the Countryside : The Case of the Amish”]. Le Mouvement Social: in press.
“Escape from New York: Gender and the Rural Safety Valve, 1856-1884.” In Rolf Bauer, ed., Working the Land: Labour Relations in Global Agriculture from the Early Modern to the Present. Leiden, Netherlands: in press.
“Working Together: Women and Men on the Amish Family Farm in 1930s Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.” The Journal of Amish and Plain Anabaptist Studies 8 (Autumn 2020): 113-124. Co-Authored with Steven D. Reschly.
“Global Visions of Modern Marriage.” Review essay of States of Marriage: Gender, Justice, and Rights in Colonial Mali, by Emily S. Burrill; Domestic Tensions, National Anxieties: Global Perspectives on Marriage, Crisis, and Nation, ed. by Kristin Celello and Hanan Kholoussy; American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States, by Nicholas L. Syrett. In Journal of Women’s History 30 (Winter 2018): 178-184.
“Get Your Farm in the Fight: Farm Masculinity in World War II.” Agricultural History 92 (Winter 2018): 5-20.
“Peculiar Poster Girls: Images of Pacifist Women in American World War II Propaganda.” In Corinna Peniston-Bird and Emma Vickers, eds., Gender and the Second World War: Lessons of War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017, pp. 171-184.
“This Tractor for Hire: Consensual Cooperation for Pacifist and African-American Farmers, Women, and Gangsters in World War II American Informational Films.” Popular Culture Review 27 (Summer 2016): 80-108. Co-authored with Steven D. Reschly.
“Jacqueline Kennedy.” In Katherine A.S. Sibley, ed., Blackwell Companion to First Ladies. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2016, pp. 503-516.

Presenter: Debra A. Reid, The Henry Ford
Debra A. Reid, PhD, is Curator of Agriculture and the Environment at The Henry Ford. She has training in history (MA from Baylor University and PhD from Texas A&M) and in historic preservation and history museum studies (with a B.S. from Southeast Missouri State University, and an M.A. from the Cooperstown Graduate Program in History Museum Studies). She was a professor in the Department of History at Eastern Illinois University from 1999 through 2016 before moving to The Henry Ford. She remains an adjunct professor teaching a history of Illinois agriculture at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana for the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. Her books include the award-winning Reaping a Greater Harvest: African Americans and the Agricultural Extension Service in Jim Crow Texas (2007) and Interpreting Agriculture at Museums and Historic Sites (2017), the co-edited Beyond Forty-Acres and a Mule: African American Landowners since Reconstruction (with Evan Bennett, 2012), and the co-written Interpreting the Environment at Museums and Historic Sites (with David D. Vail, 2019). She is VP of the Agricultural History Society (and a fellow of that society).

Presenter: Mary van Balgooy, Independent Historian
Mary A. van Balgooy is an award-winning museum professional who has worked in a variety of institutions, including archives, botanic gardens, historic houses, historical societies, museums, preservation organizations, universities, and governmental agencies at the city, county, and federal levels in all types of positions including collections, education, exhibitions, interpretation, and preservation. Her articles include the award-winning Designer of the Dream: Cliff May and the California Ranch House (2004), Before LA: Cliff May’s Beginnings in San Diego (2011) and “Interpreting Women’s Lives at Historic House Museums” in Reimagining Historic House Museums: New Approaches and Proven Solutions (2019). She is currently writing an article about how women changed Christmas from a rowdy adult festival into a children’s holiday as we know it today. She is executive director of the Society of Woman Geographers and vice president of Engaging Places LLC.