Archive for the ‘All News’ Category

Gals in Blue: Finding Each Other

December 12th, 2016


“I got a short notice deployment. I am leaving in less than a week. I am missing Thanksgiving and Christmas and everything.”

The call from one of my dearest friends was unexpected but not surprising. This was late 2003, and we were at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was all hands on deck, literally. In the early 2000s, when the standing US military force was at its lowest since World War II, you were either deployed, coming home from deployment, getting ready to deploy, serving in some other overseas location, or in training.

I had no doubt she would be awesome while deployed, because she was one of the most talented officers in the Air Force I knew. The fact that she was female, and was being sent into a combat zone, was never an issue.

No Women’s Only Units

It’s really amazing to think about, the incredible amount of change for women in the military in the 60 or so years since the days of the WASPs. Women in the early days were limited to very few career fields, mainly nursing. Those incredible WASP pilots were dismissed without benefits or even veteran status (that was finally granted to them in 1977). Women weren’t allowed to attend military academies or pilot training until the late 70s and early 80s. And thank goodness there were amazing women that were those “firsts,” because that meant when I got my Air Force commission, I could choose from nearly all available career fields.

But even now, when all career fields in the military are open to women – fighter pilot, infantry, submarines, even Ranger qualification – we still make up less than 20% of the force. The military is fully integrated, there aren’t women-only units, but that means you are sometimes one of the only women in your unit. It can get a little lonely.

A Special Skill

I might never have stayed for as long as I did without my closest girlfriends. It’s a special skill of women in particular, I think, to team up and take care of each other. Sometimes they were in my unit, but usually not. Usually I met them working on some extra duty or at the gym or around base. Some were active duty, some reservists, some formerly active duty that stayed part of the Air Force by either job or marriage. And all were a life raft when I most needed it.

Just like my friend calling me, I have made similar calls to her and to others when a crisis of some kind was brewing. Never a crisis like, “my house burned down,” usually something like “I’ve been selected for this prestigious graduate degree program but it means leaving my husband and children for 10 months” or “I’ve been given squadron command but it’s in Iraq for a year.”

Even the most military supporting friends and neighbors would cringe when I said those things out loud, but not my girlfriends. Because they get it. They get that serving your country means sacrifice, but you should still do it. Not only were they there to answer my phone calls, but they also sent care packages and helped out my family when they needed it and I couldn’t be there. Without their knowing it, they have been and remain great examples to my daughter about serving with excellence, and humor, and friendship.

Informal Mentors

That’s why, as I closed out my career in the Air Force, I started my blog, Gals in Blue. I wanted some way to stay involved as an informal mentor, and to help others connect. I love how blogs and social media are helping women in the military to find each other, to reach out for help, and to celebrate each other’s accomplishments. I had someone ask me recently if I missed being in the Air Force. My answer was an unqualified no, and I could say that because the best part, by far, of my military experience, was my girlfriends. And I get to keep them forever.


Author’s Bio: Elisabeth Auld served for 24 years in the US Air Force, including tours in Japan, South Korea, Germany and Iraq.  She currently works in the aviation industry, and resides in Alexandria, Virginia with her husband, also an Air Force veteran, and their two children.



National Women’s History Museum Receives Grant to Rebuild Website with Advanced Content Capabilities

December 6th, 2016


Alexandria, Va.— The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) announced today it will receive a $370,000 grant from the PwC Charitable Foundation, Inc. (the Foundation) in support of the Museum’s efforts to develop advanced content capabilities for 21st century interactive learning modules, revamped curricula lessons and online exhibits and to optimize the content for mobile. The grant will be distributed over two years.

PwC LLP will complement the Foundation’s grant with pro bono technical advice and support. The pro bono engagement team will work to advise the investment in new interactive content, bringing considerable user experience expertise to optimize the platform.

NWHM is the nation’s largest online cultural institution dedicated to women’s history, both past and present, and its online presence is critical to serving its mission and stakeholder community.

“This grant allows us to expand both our technical and staff capacities to create a unique level of engagement with our diverse audiences,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “We are excited to work with the PwC Charitable Foundation to make our exhibits and information available to people across the nation and encourage learning and appreciation for women’s contributions to American history.”

”We see the absence of women’s stories from history as a challenge to education that needs to be addressed,” said Shannon Schuyler, president of the Foundation. “This grant and our pro bono support aim to help the National Women’s History Museum engage future generations of Americans with important stories told in a compelling way.”

The new website will feature optimized, virtual exhibits that are mobile-friendly, and increase NWHM’s reach by 35 percent in the first two years of launch. Efficiencies, cost savings and additional staff capacity will allow for more efficient content management and data capture that will improve the organization’s ability to make more data-driven decisions and to maximize its impact well beyond the two-year grant period. NWHM plans to launch the website Summer 2017.


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About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


Remembering Pearl Harbor Day – Honoring the Bravery of Army Nurse Annie G. Fox

December 5th, 2016

annie_foxDecember 7 is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, when Americans commemorate the 1941 attack that brought the United States into World War II. The Japanese attack shocked a nation that had heretofore resisted entering foreign wars by bringing the conflict to its shores. Dozens of stories of heroism emerged after the attacks, including that of the inspiring courage of First Lieutenant Annie G. Fox (Army Nurse Corps), who received a Bronze Star for her actions. The Bronze Star, when awarded for bravery, it is the fourth-highest combat award of the U.S. Armed Forces and the ninth highest military award in the order of precedence.

Lt. Fox was the Station Hospital’s Head Nurse at Hickam Field. The 30-bed hospital opened in November 1941, with six nurses. Lt. Monica E. Conter described the unit as “the happiest group of nurses anywhere, [under] the grandest chief nurse [Fox] who enjoys everything as much as we do.” Fox had joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1918, at the end of the First World War. While no stranger to military service, the surprise attack landed her in combat for the first time. The 47-year-old quickly took control of the situation as bombs rained down on the base.

Firsthand accounts of the attack by hospital staff described a terrifying and chaotic situation. Enemy airplanes flying so close and low that the nurses could see the pilots talking to each other were followed by explosions and masses of black smoke after each dive. Casualties poured into the hospital within minutes of the first bombing run. Hospital staff leaped into action as the constant noise of aerial torpedoes, bombs, machine gunning, and the American anti-aircraft filled the air.

As the attack progressed, causalities multiplied while bombs fell around the hospital itself. One bomb left a 30-foot crater twenty feet from the hospital wing, and another fell across the street. The smoke and fumes were so severe that the hospital staff, fearing a gas attack, donned gas masks and helmets as they tended the wounded. The casualties suffered from serious shrapnel wounds particularly in the abdomen, chest, face, head, arms, and legs. The casualties were so numerous that nurses had time only to administer pain medication before triaging them on to Trippler hospital. The dead also passed through, their bodies a mangled mass of bone and bloody and charred tissue.

As Head Nurse, Lt. Fox rallied the nurses and organized the hospital’s response to the assault. The wives of officers and N.C.O.s reported to the hospital to help, and Lt. Fox organized the civilian volunteers to make hospital dressings by the hundreds and assist with patient care. Lt. Fox herself participated in surgery, administering anesthesia, during the heaviest part of the bombardment. Afterwards, she, with the other nurses, tended to the wounded.

On October 26, 1942, in recognition of her efforts, Fox became the first woman in American history to be awarded the Purple Heart medal. Her citation read in part:

“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head nurse of the Station Hospital. . . . [She] worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency and her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact.”

Four other Army nurses were also recognized for their performance during the attack. Captain Helena Clearwater, First Lieutenant Elizabeth A. Pesut, Second Lieutenant Elma L. Asson, and Second Lieutenant Rosalie L. Swenson each received the Legion of Merit “for extraordinary fidelity and essential service”.

Though at the time the Purple Heart award was most commonly awarded to service members wounded by enemy forces, it was occasionally awarded for any “singularly meritorious act of extraordinary fidelity or essential service.” The Purple Heart Award criteria changed in 1942 to be limited to wounds received as a result of enemy action. On October 6, 1944, Lt. Fox was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in replacement for her Purple Heart, which was rescinded. The Report of Decorations Board cited the same acts of heroism as for the Purple Heart.

The Army Nurse Corps had fewer than 1,000 nurses on December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Eighty-two Army nurses were stationed in Hawaii serving at three Army medical facilities that infamous day. By the end of World War II, more than 59,000 American nurses had served in the Army Nurse Corps. Nurses worked closer to the front lines than in any prior conflict, providing invaluable service at great personal risk. Nurses received 1,619 medals, citations, and commendations during the war, including sixteen medals awarded posthumously to women who died as a result of enemy fire. Lt. Fox and her thousands of fellow nurses exemplified the courage and dedication of all who served.

Defining Designs

November 20th, 2016

By Rebecca C. Tuite

Elizabeth Hawes and Fashion is Spinach

“I don’t know when the word fashion came into being, but it was an evil day,”[1] Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971) famously declared, encapsulating her complicated relationship with the fashion industry. Educated at Vassar, Hawes enjoyed a diverse career that took her from being a copyist in the haute couture salons of Paris in the 1920s (also known as a “design thief,” Hawes would sketch the latest French fashions to be copied back home by American companies), to being a successful designer in her own right in the 1930s and 1940s. Constant through her lifetime were her roles as a journalist, an insightful author, a sharp commentator on the fashion industry and an outspoken, politically-engaged advocate for women’s rights. Hawes launched her namesake line in 1930, quickly earning a reputation for innovative and witty fashions, which she gave irreverent names, including her “Alimony” and “The Tarts” dresses and her famous “Guardsman” gloves. By 1940, Hawes had largely retired from the fashion industry, however what continued were her polemics on fashion and style. Indeed, what has most defined Elizabeth Hawes’s legacy is her fashion writing, particularly her first book, Fashion is Spinach.

fashionisspinach_coverFashion is Spinach was published in 1938, with its title stemming from a New Yorker cartoon that sees a young boy looking unimpressed with his plate of spinach, and although his mother implores him to eat, the boy responds, “I say it’s spinach. And I say, the hell with it.” Fashion is Spinach sees Hawes outline why, to her, the fashion industry resembled that unappealing plate of spinach; using her own professional experiences to critique the way fashion was marketed and sold to women. Chiefly among Hawes’s concerns was the important difference between fashion and style. To Hawes, style was about honing an authentic, appropriate, personal look; style was “that thing which, being looked back upon after a century, gives you the fundamental feeling of a certain period in history… Style gives you shorts for tennis because they are practical. Style takes away the wasp-waisted corset when women get free and active.” In contrast, “Fashion is that horrid little man with an evil eye who tells you that your last winter’s coat may be in perfect physical condition, but you can’t wear it. You can’t wear it because it has a belt and this year ‘we are not showing belts.’” Hawes loathed the industry’s incessant pressure for “newness” and, as fashion historian Valerie Steele has noted, held the belief that simply: “You should feel free to wear whatever makes you happy.” Hawes’s also addressed French versus American fashion, at a time when Paris still dictated the fashion agenda. “The difference between French and American style is not very great,” Hawes wrote, “But just enough to make many French designs useless for the United States.” Hawes opened her own line in the hope of questioning the “French Legend” and instead championed homegrown talent and encouraged the American fashion industry to create clothing accessible to all American women that actually suited their lifestyles.

Fashion is Spinach provides not only an important insight into the fashion industry in the 1920s and 1930s, but highlights a number of issues that would inform the changing landscape of the American fashion industry for much of the twentieth century.


Vera Maxwell and the “Weekend Wardrobe”

Having enjoyed early careers as a ballet dancer and a fashion model in Manhattan, Vera Maxwell (1901-1995) transitioned into fashion design, where both her practical tailoring abilities and her intuitive good taste found their greatest expression. A key figure in the creation of the “American Look,” Maxwell established a reputation for quality American sportswear separates, impeccable suiting and timeless dresses, as well as designing the “Rosie the Riveter” coveralls as part of the war effort (the predecessor to today’s ever-popular jumpsuit).

Photo Credit: communing withfabric (

Photo Credit: communing withfabric (

In 1935, Maxwell outlined her design approach as, “Evolving basic silhouettes which are actually studied and precisely fitted but at the same time convey the casual appearance to essential to successful sports clothes.” This encapsulates Maxwell’s legacy: fashions that have an effortless quality but which are carefully thought out and imbued with all the “newness” of the moment, including innovative fabrications (with early forays into Arnel and Ultrasuede), perceptive solutions (in 1975 Maxwell unveiled her “Speed Suit,” a dress with no fiddly fastenings that could be put on in seconds), and unexpected detailing (like lining a jacket with the same fabric as its matching dress).

While Maxwell’s designs are most commonly described as “timeless” and “classic,” she was extraordinarily forward thinking in meeting the changing demands and lifestyles of women. She offered a range of sizes beyond a size 8 when that was unusual and as Richard Martin has noted, Maxwell “never forgot that women were going to be active and working, and she realized more than anyone that air travel was going to be the quintessential experience of the late 20th century.” It was her early recognition of the need for convenient, stylish, versatile fashions for women on the move that gave rise to one of her most famous design innovations: The Weekend Wardrobe.

The “Weekend Wardrobe,” introduced in 1935, was a collection of coordinated garments that could be mixed and matched at will and easily packed for a weekend jaunt. The first Weekend Wardrobe included a collarless, Harris tweed jacket (inspired by one Maxwell saw Albert Einstein wearing at Princeton in 1935), another jersey jacket, pants and two skirts. Emblematic of her powers of “experience and observation,” Maxwell created the kind of coordinated, streamlined collection that she, or any woman, would find easy to take and wear on a short trip.

Maxwell also established the blueprint for effortless separates dressing that would define American fashion for generations. In fact, as the rest of the fashion world caught up with her idea, Maxwell continued to develop her convenient, stylish answer to the traveling woman’s needs. In 1946, Maxwell tested out her capsule weekend wardrobe for air travel (weighing in under the 55lb personal packing limit) and in 1948 she offered a Donegal tweed jacket with oversized pockets that were lined in plastic to carry all the washbag essentials. Maxwell also deftly employed Arnel to make pleated skirts that could survive the crush of a suitcase, and in 1975 she created yet another version of her weekend wardrobe to fit inside a single carry-on garment bag made with the latest, travel-friendly fabric Ultrasuede.

In a career filled with pioneering design moments and timeless fashions, Maxwell’s Weekend Wardrobe defined American sportswear separates dressing and fully achieved her mission to create “easy and attractive clothes for women who worked, traveled and led active lives.”


Donna Karan and the Cold Shoulder Dress

“For me, designing is an expression of who I am as a woman, with all the complications, feelings and emotions,” Donna Karan (b. 1948) once explained. From her iconic sensual, jersey gowns and sleek, stretchy bodysuits, to her versatile wrap-and-tie skirts and practical, professional suiting, Karan has spent her career creating beautiful and functional clothing for every aspect of a woman’s life. Working her way up through the ranks at Anne Klein before starting her own line in 1985, Karan follows in the rich tradition of female American fashion designers who created clothing that not only fulfilled needs in their own lives, but in the lives of women everywhere. Karan’s designs showcase a thoughtful balance between beauty, art, comfort, power, luxury, sensuality and, above all, practicality. Karan launched her line with her “Seven Easy Pieces,” which was a capsule collection of coordinating, interchangeable garments that could transform one’s look and create stylish outfits anywhere, anytime. However, of all her designs, it is perhaps the Cold Shoulder dress of the early 1990s that has become most iconic.

karancoldshoulder_harpersbazaarDebuting in 1992, Karan’s cold shoulder dress was a sleek, black, matte jersey dress, with long sleeves, a high neckline and deep cutouts at the shoulders to expose the skin beneath. Karan felt that this cut-out silhouette, in a bodysuit, top or dress, lent itself well to her established system of dressing, as she explained, “What I love about it goes back to my original concept. Wear it under a suit and it looks like a turtleneck. Wear it at night without the suit and it’s totally different.” However, Karan also emphasized its almost universal flattery: “A woman never gains weight in her shoulders, so everyone is happy to bare them.”

Although the dress initially received a cool reception from the fashion world, when First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton wore the dress to the Governors Dinner in 1993, one of her first official engagements in her new role, the cold shoulder dress became a hot topic. At a moment when all of America, and the world, was looking to see how Clinton would juggle her roles as a wife, mother, leader of health-care reform and as First Lady, fashion took center stage. So began, as writer Alice Hines, has observed, “a tradition of (often sexist) HRC outfit commentary still going strong 23 years later.” National media outlets mused on everything from the traditional connotations of a lady’s exposed shoulder (“A bare shoulder radiates demure sexuality, like Grace Kelly’s in To Catch a Thief,” suggested Hal Rubenstein in the New York Times, “It conjures up images of a stolen nuzzle in a hansom cab, the sweetness of prom night. It’s a great roadside stop on the way from the neck to the breast”), to how the dress helped a concerted effort to reframe Clinton’s public image by emphasizing her role as First Lady, and all its associated responsibilities in the White House, first and foremost. The conversation was heightened all the more given Karan’s status as a designer who unashamedly championed the idea that a woman could be more sensual in her style and still convey power, confidence and capability. The cold shoulder dress followed hot on the heels of Karan’s most openly feminist advertising campaigns in 1992, which resulted in one of the most iconic fashion images of all time: A model dressed in Karan-designed pinstripes and pearls being sworn in as president surrounded by American flags and gentlemen, with the campaign line simply written below: “In Women We Trust.”

The cold shoulder dress has come to stand not only as a masterclass in Karan’s approach to form, fabrication and sensuality but as a touchstone for the myriad of attitudes and public media negotiations regarding a woman’s place in the professional, political and private spheres of life in the early 1990s.


Anna Sui and the “Barbie & Lady Diana Cooper” Collection, Spring Summer 1992

Anna Sui, born 1964, is an American fashion designer, known for her witty and whimsical fashions and her global lifestyle brand. Born in Detroit, Sui graduated from Parsons in 1986 and debuted her first collection in 1991. Since then, Sui has earned a reputation for glamorous “boho” style, diverse cultural references (cowboys, 1930s Hollywood starlets, Seventeen magazine, Busby Berkley musicals to name a handful), vivid colors, unusual fabric choices and for the unique ability to romp nostalgically through different historical time periods while still creating clothing that feels current (particularly favoring 1960s London, 1970s disco, 1990s Paris and Victoriana).

annasuispring92Sui is also synonymous with Americana, frequently co-opting hallmarks of classic American preppy style; reimagining Bermuda shorts, Liberty-print Villager dresses, or cable-knit sweaters for her own playful world. Importantly, Sui deftly weaves her own life, experiences, memories and nostalgia through her work. One collection that defines many of the key motifs and themes that recur throughout her career, and which places her work in the broader scheme of American fashion history, is Sui’s Spring/Summer 1992 collection.

Spring/Summer 1992 drew its central inspiration from two figures: Barbie and Lady Diana Cooper, a beautiful British socialite. As Andrew Bolton has observed, these are “figures who reflect two enduring and dichotomous influences in Sui’s work – American popular culture and English aristocratic traditions.” As such, the collection could be described as “Sophisticate Barbie:” crisp white and navy striped jackets, shorts and sleek overall dresses created a youthful freshness that contrasted with Sui’s grown-up, sensual lace babydoll dresses; while bold, oversized-gingham crop-tops were tamed when paired with matching, demure pencil skirts. There was even elegant suiting, inspired by the French couture traditions of Chanel and Balenciaga.

Testament to Sui’s deeply personal approach to design, these varied inspirations also form a commentary on her youth and experiences: As a child, Sui made clothes for her Barbies and she featured some of the ensembles she so vividly remembered, and she used a vintage Balenciaga advertisement she had kept for her take on suiting.

Above all, the collection shows what would become Sui’s enduring deference to the traditions of America’s most influential fashion designers, particularly those responsible for the “American Look” in the 30s and 40s. Following in the footsteps of sportswear stars Claire McCardell and Anne Fogarty, Sui used every day, casual fabrics, like denim and cotton piqué, to create imminently wearable clothes, including denim jeans, rolled at the ankles for the ultimate relaxed look, and simple, nipped-waist cotton dresses.

When the New York Times reviewed the collection, they wrote, “The first number out set the mood. It was a blue and black gingham shirtdress with a full, calf-length skirt. Sounds like the 1950’s, right? But the skirt was left open to show matching shorts, and the model’s head was encased in a towering black straw hat.”

Indeed, Sui used the vocabulary of American sportswear to speak a new language, as she explained, “You can’t just pull a concept out of nowhere and say this is the look of today, because it doesn’t happen that way. Fashion is a reflection. […] You have to bring it back so that a person can walk down the street and not look like she walked out of a costume epic or a time machine. It’s got to fit into how people are dressing today.”

The Spring/Summer 1992 collection, then, sets a precedent for the way in which Sui blends inspirations from seemingly disparate worlds and eras, explores nostalgia and personal experience and delivers innovative design with a firm grasp on the traditions of fabrication and style in American fashion history.


Want to learn more about the history of fashion? Visit NWHM’s exhibit “Fashioning Yourself!


Works Cited and Referenced

  • Hawes, Elizabeth. Fashion is Spinach. New York: Random House, 1938.
  • Martin, Richard. American Ingenuity: Sportswear 1930s-1970s. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Steele, Valerie. Women of Fashion: Twentieth Century Designers. New York: Rizzoli, 1991.
  • —- Steele, Valerie. “American Fashion.” In Women Designers in the USA, 1900-2000: Diversity and Difference. Edited by Pat Kirkham. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • “A Designer Packs for her Own Flying Weekend Wardrobe.” Women’s Wear Daily. April 12, 1946. 38.
  • Cotier, Virginia. “Designers of Today and Tomorrow: Vera Maxwell.” Women’s Wear Daily. October 30, 1935. 3.
  • Kirkham, Pat and Kohle Yohannan. “Vera Maxwell.” In Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the Twentieth Century. Edited by Susan War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004. 422-423.
  • Klemesrud, Judy. “Good News for ‘Vera’s Ladies.’” New York Times. October 21, 1970. 52.
  • Martin, Richard. American Ingenuity: Sportswear 1930s-1970s. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1998.
  • Morris, Bernadine. “Timeless Fashions at a Vera Maxwell Retrospective.” New York Times. 12 December 1980. B6.
  • Ozzard, Janet. “Vera Maxwell Remembered.” Women’s Wear Daily. January 23, 1995. 23.
  • Schiro, Anne-Marie. “Vera Maxwell is Dead at 93; Legendary Sportswear Designer.” New York Times. January 20, 1995. B8.
  • Sheppard, Eugenia. “Olympic Uniforms Inspire Vera Maxwell’s ‘Speed Suit.’” The Toledo Blade. March 11, 1975. 15.
  • Warren, Virginia Lee. “Vera Maxwell: Timely Yet Timeless Fashion: Designer’s Creations Remain Wearable Year After Year.” New York Times. November 25, 1964. 32.
  • “About Donna.” The Official Donna Karan Website. Accessed Online:
  • “Cold Shoulder,” Women’s Wear Daily, Feburary 2, 1993, p. 24.
  • Hines, Alice. “Donna Karan and the First Female President.” NY Mag – The Cut. October 25, 2015. Accessed Online:
  • Karan, Donna. My Journey. New York: Ballantine Books, 2015. 164.
  • Karimzadeh, Marc. “Donna’s Iconic Moments.” Women’s Wear Daily. January 11, 2007. 9.
  • Quinn, Sally. “Look Out! It’s Superwoman.” Newsweek. February 15, 1993. 24-25.
  • Rubenstein, Hal. “The Cold Shoulder.” New York Times. February 7, 1993. V10.
  • Wilson, Eric. “Now You Know: The Evolution of Donna Karan’s Seven Easy Pieces,” InStyle, July 1, 2015. Accessed Online:
  • Bolton, Andrew. Anna Sui. San Francisco: Chronicle, 2010.
  • Schiro, Anne-Marie. “Nostalgia With a Look That’s Now.” New York Times. December 1, 1991. 68.
  • —- “From 3 Designers, a Lighthearted View of Spring.” New York Times. November 8, 1991. B10.
  • —-   “Collection by Sui Spans the Decades.” New York Times. April 13, 1994. C12.
  • Spindler, Amy M. “Behind the Seams.” New York Times Magazine. November 14, 1999. Accessed Online:

A Two-Dimensional View of Fashion: History of Paper Dolls and Popular Culture

November 20th, 2016


While everybody wears clothing, not everyone wears fashion. In choosing to wear fashion—rather than just clothing—the wearer makes a statement about herself and her sense of identity. Individuals use fashion to place themselves in (or out) of groups, demonstrate their places in society, and communicate not only who they are but also who they aspire to be. But a collection of individuals makes up a society. While fashion choices are ultimately individual, fashion trends reflect society’s culture, norms, expectations, and values.

Paper dolls as artifacts illustrate the social expectations for women at particular moments in time. As products of both popular culture and mass marketing, paper dolls are intentionally designed to reflect that society’s idealized version of womanhood. The dolls’ little paper wardrobes communicate a wealth of information about the ideal woman of the past.


Pretty Paper Playthings

Paper dolls were popular playthings from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. Technological advances in the 19th century dropped the cost of printing and made reproducing pictures much easier, leading to an explosion of illustrated, paper ephemera including prints, books, magazines, and cards. The first American paper doll commercially produced as a children’s toy was Boston-based J. Belcher’s “The History and Adventures of Little Henry” in 1812. The dolls accompanied a children’s book and were designed to act out various scenes as the narratives unfolded. Paper dolls only grew in popularity over the century. Newspapers and magazines published paper dolls both as playthings and as vehicles to illustrate current fashions for girls and women.

Children learn through play, using toys to try out different roles. For little girls, the appeal of paper dolls lay in their extensive wardrobes and the many different scenarios a doll could play out. The dolls and their wardrobes depicted the ideal aspirational lifestyle for their time. Dolls of older teenagers or young adult women encouraged girls to project themselves into that next phase of life. As with most playthings, paper dolls encouraged girls in fantasy role play, but the roles were defined by the dolls’ clothing and accessories.

Paper dolls from different decades send a message about the role of women at the time and what society valued. Twentieth-century paper dolls’ wardrobes expanded the various potential roles for girls, from college student to movie star to World War II WAC. In this, they reflected an expanded horizon of women’s opportunities that aligned with what women were doing in real life.

Career-oriented dolls—unless that career was “movie star”—continued to be outnumbered by dolls depicting ladies of leisure. The doll below, published circa 1942, has a wide wardrobe wholly oriented towards leisure activities with outfits for day, evening, and recreation. She reflects the aspirational ideal of a 1940’s woman’s lifestyle, even if it was not most women’s lived reality.

This trend in paper doll wardrobes continued until the late 1970s, after the women’s rights movement, when sets began to mix professional options among the leisure clothes, mirroring women’s increased entry into professional employment. Lydia, published in 1977, owns career wear as well as play clothes.

Here Comes the Bride(s)

An enduring archetype was the bride paper doll. Publishers regularly released bridal party paper doll sets decade by decade, positioning marriage as an important adult milestone and a goal in and of itself. So important was the role of “bride” that some sets neglected to include grooms. Bridal paper doll outfits codified wedding pageantry, using fashion to engage girls in the fantasy while enabling them to playact the cultural role of “bride”. These two paper dolls sets, published 30 years apart in 1949 and 1978, show that the fashion elements of a dream wedding remained remarkably consistent over time.

The Rise and Fall of Paper Dolls

Advances in color lithography in the last quarter of the 19th century resulted in hundreds of sets of dolls with colorfully printed wardrobes. These sets remain popular today among collectors both for their beautiful designs and the nostalgia. Paper dolls declined in popularity in the 1960s and 70s, and some blame Mattel’s Barbie. With her fashionable wardrobe, Barbie fulfilled much of the same fantasy play role as paper dolls. Paper dolls’ heyday endured over one hundred years. Today, those dolls and their fashionable paper wardrobes, reflecting the attitudes and assumptions about women’s social roles, tell us a lot in the present about how the popular culture of fashion defined women.


Want to learn more about the history of fashion? Visit NWHM’s exhibit “Fashioning Yourself!


Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program





Recommended Readings

  •  Johnson, Judy M. “The History of Paper Dolls.” The History of Paper Dolls. 2005. Accessed November 16, 2016.
  • Katharine, Katharine, ed. American Cornucopia : Treasures of the Winterthur Library. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1990. Electronic.
  • Nichols, Carol. Paper Dolls of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s: Identification & Value Guide. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 2005.
  • Oatman-Stanford, Hunter. “From Little Fanny to Fluffy Ruffles: The Scrappy History of Paper Dolls.” Collectors Weekly. July 15, 2013. Accessed November 16, 2016.
  • “Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library.” Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library. 2009. Accessed November 16, 2016.
  • Young, Mary. A Collector’s Guide to Magazine Paper Dolls. Paducah, KY: Collector Books, 1990.
  • Young, Mary. Tomart’s Price Guide to Saalfield and Merrill Paper Dolls. Dayton, OH: Tomart Publications, 2000.

Statement of the National Women’s History Museum on the Report by Congressional Commission on the Study of a Potential American Museum of Women’s History

November 16th, 2016

“We thank the Commission for recommending in their report to Congress a national women’s history museum in a prominent location on the National Mall. We greatly appreciate the Commission’s hard work and bi-partisan support. We are proud to have supported them financially and to have worked collaboratively with them over the past 18 months.

“The National Women’s History Museum believes America deserves a Museum that educates, inspires, empowers and shapes the future by integrating women’s distinctive contributions into our culture and history.  We support a strong public-private partnership that ensures the Museum takes its place among the other great museums in Washington, D.C.

“For more than 20 years, National Women’s History Museum has been dedicated to educating Americans about the diverse historic contributions of women and fought relentlessly to raise awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital.

“We worked closely with Congress to create legislation that would designate a site for a National Women’s History Museum, which ultimately led to the law that created the Commission. We thank all the cosponsors of that legislation, Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Susan Collins, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Marsha Blackburn.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the commissioners, Congress, our 55,000 charter members and all of our stakeholders to make the museum a reality as soon as possible.”

NWHM Board Member at UN Youth Assembly

October 17th, 2016

NWHM Board Member Cheri Kaufman gave a presentation at the opening ceremony of the 2016 Youth Assembly at the United Nations. You can read her remarks at

Snubbed Women in STEM

October 17th, 2016

In 1940, Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu[1], educated in her native China and the United States, overcame both gender and racial barriers to receive her Ph.D. in physics. Shortly thereafter, Wu was invited to work on the Manhattan Project to conduct research on uranium enrichment and radiation detection. And if that was not enough, she later found experimental evidence against the long standing theory of conservation of parity. Her two male colleagues were awarded the Nobel Prize for research made possible by her discovery, but Wu was ignored. Why?


The Problem

Over the last century, great strides have been made in the United States to equalize the status of women and open the doors of opportunity that have been closed to them for most of history. Yet somehow these strides in STEM fields have fallen woefully short.[2] This is one of the great ironies of women’s history. In the past several years there has been a sense of urgency to get young women and girls interested in science early. But as recently as the mid-twentieth century, women in science were so ostracized that they were not recognized for groundbreaking, sometimes Nobel Prize-winning, work.


But Wait, there’s More!

Scientist Esther Lederberg, geneticist Nettie Stevens, and physicist Chien Shiung Wu

Wu’s story is just one of several that we have allowed to slip through the proverbial cracks. Dr. Esther Lederberg was a microbiologist credited with discovering the lambda bacteriophage—a virus that infects bacteria. With her husband, Joshua, she also developed a method to move bacterial colonies between petri dishes. Joshua Lederberg and his male colleagues received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in 1958. But like Wu, Esther was not recognized for her contributions.

Sometimes women’s scientific contributions are not as obviously overlooked. Dr. Nettie Stevens[3] (whose birthday was honored in a July 7th Google Doodle this year) was a geneticist during the turn of the twentieth century. She was among the first to argue that sex determination in certain organisms (including humans) is determined by chromosomes. This discovery was not widely accepted in the scientific community until other scientists published similar findings. Edmund Wilson came to similar conclusions in his own experiments, and prominent geneticist, Thomas Hunt Morgan, wrote a textbook confirming Stevens’ findings but did not credit her for the discovery.


That was Then, This is Now

While the numbers are improving, there are still considerable disparities along both gender and ethnic/socioeconomic lines.[4]Many experts argue that the key to inspiring the next generation of women to pursue STEM careers is to give them role models to whom they can look for inspiration.[5] Women like Wu, Lederberg, and Stevens are just the people for the job. But for women and girls to be inspired by their handling of adversity and achievements, their stories need to be told. One of the ways we can tell these stories is through a museum dedicated to women’s history. Not only would such an institution tell the untold stories of women in STEM, but of those in politics, the arts, sports, and social change, to name a few.








Read how an early STEM education made a difference for three 21st century scientists. >>




Rising Stars Reflect on STEM Education

October 17th, 2016

By Catherine C. Veal

In my 34 years working to develop diverse talent in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, many have addressed why STEM education is important, especially for girls. A good “one stop shop” is the Women in STEM resource library of The Office of Science and Technology Policy, Executive Office of the President,

AAUW, a member of the Museum’s National Coalition, supports girls STEM education as displayed in this graphic

To build on this, meet three collegiate undergraduates who are rising STEM stars – confident, fearless young women already excelling in fields still largely dominated by men. Their contributions and achievements illustrate what is possible when girls can access high quality STEM education.

Kendell Byrd studies computer science and economics at Swarthmore College, has interned as a software engineer at Jawbone, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Facebook HQ, and was profiled by Women of Silicon Valley.

Drake University neuroscience major Sarah Martin, first runner-up in the Eduzine Global ACE Young Achiever 2016 competition, conducts scientific research in ALS and is building an assistive device that allows people living with the disease to shower more safely.

Yale University computer science major Summer Wu develops apps and wins hackathons, this year the Capital One Summit for Software Engineers Hackathon for her Android app Splitter which uses optical character recognition to parse receipts and split the bill for groups.

The trio reflects on high quality STEM education, what is key for girls, and why it matters.

Wu stresses the importance of well educated, well trained, passionate teachers, up to date facilities and equipment, and opportunities beyond the classroom including learning in real-world settings. The latter is key, Byrd says. In high school, she relished “Inquiry Days,” one day a week where instead of regular classes, students conducted research in university laboratories, interned for a start-up, or designed their own projects.

Martin says exposing students to high quality learning experiences may instill a passion that leads to STEM career choices. For girls who already like STEM, this helps them believe they can succeed in these careers, key to reducing gender gaps.

girlswhocode_stemparticipationGirls in particular need encouragement at an early age, Wu says, given that subsequent environments are “less than conducive” to helping them achieve their full potential in STEM. She points to a summer program at Northwestern University when she was in middle school. In the mornings, students did labs to introduce new subjects; in the afternoons, they discussed key takeaways and learned new material. “Every day, I felt like my understanding of how the world worked increased tenfold, and I credit that experience for making chemistry my favorite subject when I got to high school years later,” she said.

Empowering young girls with differentiated experiences also opens doors. In the 4th grade, Martin’s teacher let her teach science class sometimes because she was so advanced. “I made my lesson plans and even assigned and graded homework. It helped me become passionate about science at a young age.”

For girls who do not like STEM or who prefer the arts and humanities, Byrd points to how STEM intersects with other areas. With a strong background in STEM, “these girls will be even more well-rounded, open minded, and stronger in their arts and humanities careers.” Martin concurs, noting “interdisciplinary integration” is needed in all kinds of situations and careers. Wu concludes: “STEM teaches students a systematic, logical way of thinking that is beneficial for all of our future leaders, no matter what field they choose to specialize in.”


Author’s Note: These women are alumni of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, IL, a public residential institution that enrolls students in grades 10-12 who are talented and interested in STEM. To learn more, visit


Author Bio

Catherine C. Veal is a founding administrator of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy where she worked from 1986 to 2015 in various leadership roles.
These young scientists are building on an important history of early pioneers who were not always recognized for their contributions. Read about them here. >>





Women Making History Los Angeles Event Draws Support for Building a National Women’s History Museum on the National Mall

September 28th, 2016

Alexandria, Va.–The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) hosted its 5th Annual Women Making History Event in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 17. The event commemorated the achievements of women, while generating awareness of the importance of preserving women’s history and building a national women’s history museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

This year’s event raised the most money to date—nearly half of which was raised in the room during the event, improving on past totals by more than 50 percent. “This year’s event was not only the best in its history,” said NWHM Board Chair Susan Whiting, “but it also helped us move closer to raising the money needed to build a national women’s history museum on the National Mall in our nation’s capital.”

The event honored a diverse group of accomplished women representing the many facets of the entertainment, lifestyle and beauty industries. Honorees included:

  • Oscar-Nominated Actress, Project Sunshine Ambassador and star of “Scream Queens” Abigail Breslin;
  • Entrepreneur Toni Ko, Founder and CEO of PERVERSE sunglasses, and Founder of NYX Cosmetics;
  • Emmy-Nominated Actress Tracee Ellis Ross; and,
  • Fashion Designer and Entrepreneur Rachel Zoe.

Honorees gave inspiring speeches about the importance of a national women’s history museum. Toni Ko, who generously donated $100,000 to NWHM, pointed out how there is a museum for everything including “mustard, toilet seats, potatoes and bananas.” Yet there is no national museum dedicated to incorporating women’s stories into our nation’s history.

Tracee Ellis Ross responded, “Bananas? It’s bananas there’s no women’s museum, please!”

Abigail Breslin noted, “Together we can bring about meaningful and consistent advances for all women regardless of their circumstances. I am proud to be a sister in this mission and convinced when we are united as sisters, we not only elevate women, we elevate humanity.”

Rachel Zoe remarked that it was important for both men and women to advocate for the museum. “The most important thing that we can do as women is teach our children, if they’re boys, how to respect women and each other. As for the girls, teach them how to be fearless and tell them that they can do anything they want to do.”

The event was made possible by presenting sponsors Glamour and Lifeway Foods (Nasdaq: LWAY).

“Supporting the women’s history museum isn’t just a box we check off for corporate social responsibility,” said NWHM Board Member and Lifeway Foods CEO Julie Smolyansky, “it’s in our very DNA.”  Smolyansky’s mother co-founded Lifeway Foods with her father, and Julie became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she took over Lifeway Foods at age 27.  “My mother’s story is largely unknown, as is the story of so many women,” said Smolyansky.  “These stories are missing from business magazines, board rooms, from history books, from news stories, from parliamentary halls and from museums.”

Through their philanthropic and professional endeavors, each of the women honored are outstanding examples of women’s accomplishments.

“We are so proud these remarkable women joined us for our event,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “While we still have work to do, money to raise and a Museum to build, we are closer than ever to seeing the Museum become a reality, and we cannot say enough how important their support is.”

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About the National Women’s History Museum

Founded in 1996, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM, Inc.) is a nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the general public about the diverse historic contributions of women and raising awareness about the critical need for a national women’s history museum in our nation’s capital. Currently located online at, the Museum’s goal is to build a world-class, permanent museum on or near the National Mall that will herald and display the collective history of American women. A Congressional Commission has been established that is charged with producing a feasible plan, which would include the governance, fundraising, location and organizational structure of the museum. For additional information visit or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



About Glamour 

Glamour is one of the biggest women’s media brands in its competitive set, reaching an all-time high of one out of eight American women, with 10 million print readers and 10 million unique users online. Glamour has received a record number of National Magazine Awards, including Magazine of the Year, honoring print and digital excellence, and General Excellence for its category. Its content is available in an iPad edition, apps, podcasts, and books—including two New York Times best sellers. Glamour’s video channel boasts 49 video series and has received substantial critical accolades, including a 2014 National Magazine Award for Video and a 2015 Emmy. With a robust social strategy across Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Tumblr, Glamour’s total social media footprint is at a record high of 95 million touchpoints. For more information, visit

About Lifeway Foods

Lifeway Foods, Inc. (LWAY), recently named one of Forbes’ Best Small Companies, is America’s leading supplier of the probiotic fermented beverage known as kefir. In addition to its line of drinkable kefir, the company also produces frozen kefir, specialty cheeses and a ProBugs line for kids. Lifeway’s tart and tangy cultured dairy products are now sold across the United States, Canada, Latin America and the United Kingdom. Learn how Lifeway is good for more than just you at