9/28/1998: The Launch of the NWHM CyberMuseum

The National Museum of Women’s History is pleased to present the first CyberMuseum dedicated to Women’s History, located at www.nwhm.org.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees of The National Museum of Women’s History, let me thank Bell Atlantic and O Interactive for their partnership with us in making this CyberMuseum a reality. Today we unveil the initial exhibit and structure of our museum as a first step in telling the rest of the story,” announced Karen Staser, President of NWHM.

“Have you ever wondered why the accomplishments of women, who make up the majority (53%) of the population, make up only 2% of the content of history books? Always thought it was because women were at home, cleaning, cooking, and sewing while the really important and exciting stuff of history was being done elsewhere? Prepare for a paradigm shift. Prepare for some real surprises and wonderment at the remarkable accomplishments of women through the ages both in and outside the home” said Ms. Staser.

While Elizabeth Cady Stanton was at home raising her seven children, she was also fomenting revolution. In fact her Declaration of Sentiments, written at home 150 years ago, set in motion the largest bloodless revolution to that time. That revolution was the beginning of the fight for women’s rights, such as the basic right to vote. Our first full exhibit in our CyberMuseum is dedicated to the images and artifacts of that fight for woman suffrage, in honor of the 150th anniversary of it’s beginning. Some history books have mentioned Stanton, but have boiled the fight for suffrage down to “In l920 women were given the right to vote.” Women weren’t given anything. They fought long and hard for the right for 72 years. There is a chance you’ve actually heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but what about Catherine Littlefield Greene? At her home they raised cotton, lots of it. She was determined to create a mechanical cotton gin to make the processing easier. Eli Whitney, a Yale graduate (they don’t grow much cotton there), worked under Greene’s patronage in a locked room in her basement for six months. When Whitney’s first model continually clogged with cotton seeds, Greene reportedly helped him to fit a brush into the works-problem solved. Funny, her name still doesn’t ring a bell does it?

You would receive the same surprise if you learned that the person with the highest I.Q. ever recorded is a female, Marilyn Vos Savant (she’s on our National Advisory Board) or, that the first female millionaire in the U.S. was an African-American, Madame C.J. Walker, or if you learned more about Trotula of Salerno (11th century Italy) who was the first known person to write down preventative health information. She was in many ways “The Mother of Medicine.” Healers used her texts for the next 700 years in medicine. She was known in history books but someone copying her text (probably a monk) changed her name (and thus her sex) to Trotulo, instead of Trotula. How about Hildegarde de Bingen or Hypatia of Alexandria? In many ways they were much like Leonardo di Vinci(true renaissance persons) but these women lived centuries before him; Hildegarde in the 12th century AD and Hypatia in the late 300′s. While their accomplishments are known, their names are not.

There are hundreds if not thousands of examples of women like these who individually helped change the course of civilization. That’s why we have launched our efforts initially through this CyberMuseum since in cyberspace we won’t have the limitations of space. NWHM does have an active agenda that includes building an actual physical museum to house the histories of many of the most prominent women and their artifacts (with a concentration on American women). But while we wait for the bricks and mortar to dry, we can be sending out over the airwaves for all to read and download, information on all of women’s history, whether it be through our site as primary source, or linking with other sites nationwide and worldwide.

But the history of women is not just about individual women. There is much to be celebrated about their impact as a group. Were you aware of the impact of the matrilineal clan system of the Iroquois that Jefferson credited for giving him the concept of the relationship between states and a central Federal government? Did you know that the invention of textiles by prehistoric woman was in many, but different, ways as important as the invention of the wheel?

Yes, the rest of the story needs to be told. And women have been trying to tell the rest of the story for centuries. Heard of Christine de Pizan? Born in l364, de Pizan is the first person known to have documented and to have tried to bring women’s history into mainstream culture. In her work, The Book of the City of Ladies, she compiled information about past heroines and their contributions to the world. Now, with the help and partnership of great companies like Bell Atlantic, and because of the Internet, it looks like NWHM can finish what Christine started over six centuries ago.

Comments are closed.