Making Connections with Women’s History at #AASLH2019

“Making the Private Public” tour group photo with Justina Barrett (front row, left) from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

By Megan Byrnes, Co-Chair, Women’s History Affinity Group

The Women’s History Affinity Group (WHAG) had a wonderful time connecting with many of you at this year’s AASLH conference in Philadelphia! There were many opportunities to meet with you and engage in discussions about ways to incorporate more women’s history at sites and museums, specifically in reference to the upcoming 2020 women’s suffrage centennial. The WHAG was pleased to share the final version of the AASLH 19th Amendment Centennial Value Statement that was created with members of our steering committee and workshopped with attendees at last year’s conference in Kansas City. Thank you to all for helping to bring this statement to fruition! We’ve had some great feedback about the value statement so far, and hope that this will be a valuable resource to AASLH members and the field as planning continues to observe this important event in our nation’s history.

Suzannah Niepold, Manager of Teacher Services, leading a group discussion of the 1841 Montier portraits by Franklin R. Street.

In addition, we saw many new faces at both the WHAG happy hour on Thursday night and Friday morning’s tour “Making the Private Public: Telling Women’s History Through Collections” at Cedar Grove and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Presenters Justina Bartlett and Suzannah Niepold facilitated engaging conversations and shared practical activities with tour participants about how to use a variety of primary sources like historic rooms, medicinal recipes, nineteenth-century paintings, and contemporary art to introduce women’s perspectives and stories at any cultural site. Many thanks to Justina and Suzannah for creating such a fun and fascinating experience for all of us!

Panel speakers Tasha Holmes, Meredith LaBoon, Nicole Daniels, Jessica Underwood Varma, and Megan Byrnes.

Friday afternoon’s panel “On the Front Lines of Costumed Interpretation: The Challenges of Bringing Women’s Stories to Life at Historic Sites” had an amazing turnout and highlighted the challenges facing staff who create and deliver first-person costumed interpretations of historic women at their sites. Tenement Museum educators Nicole Daniels and Jessica Underwood Varma shared their experiences researching and interpreting the life of Victoria Confino, a real fourteen-year-old Sephardic Jewish immigrant who lived onsite with her family in 1916. They discussed how this unique first-person interpretive program enables visitors to emotionally connect with Victoria and her story and builds empathy for the experiences faced by refugees and immigrants today. Presenters Tasha Holmes and Meredith LaBoon from Historic Philadelphia, Inc. talked about the complex interplay between race, gender, and historic mythology in interpreting Betsy Ross and Phillis, a free woman of color who worked in the Betsy Ross Historic House. As panel chair, I guided the overall discussion and robust question and answer session, and I look forward to continuing these thoughtful conversations through the Women History Affinity Group blog and beyond!

If you are interested in becoming a general member or serving on the steering committee of the Women’s History Affinity Group at AASLH, or have an idea for a blog post or women’s history panel for next year’s conference, please contact me at [email protected] or my co-chair Jennifer Krafchik at [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you!