Recognizing Valor with the Congressional Medal of Honor

March 24th, 2016

Mary Elizabeth Walker, an 1855 graduate of Syracuse Medical College, was among nation’s few female medical doctors at the beginning of the Civil War. She recognized that the Army needed medical personnel and vigorously pursued a US Army commission. Though denied a commission, she volunteered in hospitals in Washington, DC and Virginia. Walker finally secured a contract position with the Ohio 52nd Infantry in 1863. Confederates captured Walker and made her a prisoner of war. Following her release in a prisoner exchange, Walker secured a contract position as an Acting Assistant Surgeon directly with the US Army where she was assigned to supervise female prisoners of war and an orphanage. Walker retired from military service at the war’s conclusion. She was awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of her extraordinary service to her country. Dr. Walker remains the only woman in history to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Mary Walker citation

NWHM’s Joan Wages Explains “How to Fix” the Gender Gap in Podcast

March 24th, 2016

NWHM President & CEO Joan Wages was recently interviewed on the “How Do We Fix It?” podcast. The popular podcast, run by veteran journalists Richard Davies and Jim Meigs, invites innovative thinkers to discuss new research and fresh thinking around current topics. The podcast not only analyzes problems but also offers practical solutions.


Wages spoke about the absence of women in high level positions in Fortune 500 companies and public office and its correlation to a lack of role models in history books. She pointed out that fewer than 20% of the Members of Congress are women.  Women’s representation in corporate boardrooms is even lower. Fewer than 5% of CEO’s at Fortune 500 companies are women.


“Role models have a huge impact on the way young girls and women in general think about themselves,” stated Wages. When fewer than 15% of figures in US history textbook are women, it is not surprising that women and girls hesitate to pursue traditionally male career fields.


Wages discussed NWHM’s efforts to incorporate women’s history into the popular historical narrative as well as its goal to build a national museum dedicated to women’s history, the first of its kind in any world capital.


Listen to “The Gender Gap in Our Public Square: Joan Wages: How Do We Fix It?” at

NWHM Recognizes Students’ Women’s History Projects at Virginia History Day

March 24th, 2016

Gertrude BellIsadora DuncanStudents from across Northern Virginia gathered on Saturday, March 5, 2016 for the Region 5 Virginia History Competition. Students engaged in a year-long research project on the topic of “Exploration, Encounter, and Exchange in History.” They entered projects in a variety of categories including websites, exhibits, dramatic presentations, documentaries, and papers. The winners will progress to the Virginia State competition to be held in April.


In addition to awards by category and age group, four special awards were given by various organizations. National Women’s History Museum awarded two Certificates of Excellence for projects in women’s history to a middle and high school student. The women’s history category had the most number of entries for any of the special awards categories with 25 projects eligible for consideration.


The winners for Excellence in Women’s History were:


Laura Pavlak of West Springfield High School for her Senior Historical Paper “Gertrude Bell and the Birth of Iraq.”


Lydia Frazier of Mary G. Porter Traditional School for her Junior Individual Documentary “Isadora Duncan.”

Raising a Glass to Irish American Women

March 24th, 2016

On the day Ellis Island opened on January 1, 1892, an Irish girl named Annie Moore became the very first person processed through what became the world-famous immigration center. After joining her parents in New York, Annie married Joseph Augustus Schayer, a young German American who worked at the Fulton Fish Market. She bore 11 children, six of whom died before adulthood; she died at age 50 in 1924. She never left New York’s Lower East Side, living the rest of her life in a few square blocks that is today remembered as a notorious immigrant slum. Though Annie would not be remembered if not for being a first, her story nonetheless offers insights into the American experience precisely because she was so very typical.

Ellis Island

The Irish, before and after Annie Moore, had a tremendous impact on American history and culture. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 36.9 million Americans claim Irish roots. The Irish are the second largest heritage reported by Americans after German. But the Irish were unique among all immigrant groups. In immigrating to the United States they accomplished something that no other group even attempted.




By the end of the nineteenth century, single women accounted for 53% of Irish immigrants. The Irish were the only nineteenth or twentieth century immigrant group in which women outnumbered men. Between 1820 and 1860, the Irish constituted over one third of all immigrants to the United States and by the 1840s—at the height of the Potato Famine—they comprised nearly half. After the crisis of the Famine passed and Irish emigration slowed, Irish women continued to migrate in increasing numbers.


Who were these women and why did they come?


Irish women moved to American for the same reasons as men: opportunity and freedom. Young Irish women and girls left behind hard scrabble farms where they worked as long and as hard as men to bring in a crop while also maintaining homes and assisting with children. The Potato Famine devastated the Irish economy. Poor Irish women had few employment opportunities and diminished marriage prospects. So they left Ireland for America.


When they left, they did not try to replicate their rural lives. Instead, they settled in cities where many took jobs as servants or domestic workers. More than 60% worked as maids, cooks, nannies, or housekeepers. Domestic work came with several advantages. Living with wealthy or middle class American families intimately exposed Irish women to American culture, speeding acculturation and assimilation. The greatest advantage was financial. Not only were the wages higher than those for factory workers, as live in help domestics had no housing expenses, which enabled them to save more money.


Women helped women


Strong female networks sustained the immigration flow of Irish women, even during times of economic depression. Women sent money back home to support families but they also paid the passage for their female relatives. Irish women were the only immigrant group to establish immigration chains. They brought over nieces, sisters, cousins, and friends. They were young, under age 24, and unmarried. These women had the freedom to migrate and the desire for independence. Whereas other ethnic groups sent their sons to America, Ireland sent its daughters.

Irish Maid 1898

In America, those daughters developed a reputation for independence. They became education advocates, civil rights leaders, and cultural critics. They changed America.


American Irish prioritized education. The Catholic Church in Ireland launched an education initiative in the late 19th century expanding access to educational opportunities. The Irish Catholic Church in American built on that teaching mission, establishing parochial schools throughout the country that educated generations of Irish Americans. And Irish-Catholic sisters founded scores of schools and women’s colleges. In 1900, Irish American girls attended school at higher rates than any other group, including American-born boys. Before coeducation in the 1960s opened American colleges to more women, more American women earned degrees from Catholic women’s colleges than from Protestant or nondenominational institutions. Education aided social and economic mobility for successive generations.


Education facilitated Irish American women’s entrance into the workforce. Second generation Irish women entered the professions at higher rates than any other immigrant group, becoming teachers, bookkeepers, typists, journalists, social workers, and nurses. By 1910 Irish American women represented the majority of public elementary school teachers in Providence, Boston, New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. And by 1939, 70% of Chicago’s schoolteachers were Irish American women. Domestic work provided the first generation’s entry point into the American economy. But the second generation turned its back on servitude, preferring the relative autonomy and regular hours found in government and business.


Once in the workplace, Irish women demanded justice and equality. The second generation protested obvious discrimination and were among the first to organize and join labor unions. Though they were underrepresented among manufacturing workers, Irish American women were overrepresented among union leadership. Moreover, they introduced unions to service and professional fields. They organized teachers unions in order to eliminate male and female pay discrepancy.

Laundry Workers Union

Irish American women also made their mark through literature and journalism. Advanced education produced a generation of literary women, many of whom became professional journalists and novelists. Their subject matter often addressed women’s social inequities. Crusading journalist Elizabeth Cochrane, known by the pen name Nellie Bly, revealed abuse of the mentally ill in her newspaper expose “Ten Days in a Mad House”. Kate Chopin’s classic novel The Awakening criticized the stultifying confines of traditional American womanhood. Margaret Culkin Banning wrote over 400 articles for the leading women’s magazines of the day addressing taboo subjects like body image, alcoholism, and the difficulties of marriage. Their collective bodies of work demonstrate a commitment to fairness and social justice.


Irish women in America made an impact


The documentary evidence gathered from letters and journals suggests that Irish women found the adventure of their new lives in America as compelling as the economic opportunities. Living and working in the United States offered Irish women opportunities for autonomy and self-sufficiency lacking in the more patriarchal structure of “home”. Once in America, they firmly established themselves as a force with which to be reckoned. Their strong networks, formed by immigration patterns and sustained by shared membership in the Catholic Church, nurtured a culture and pride among Irish American women that continues to this day. During Irish American Heritage Month, let’s toast the strong and determined Irish women who became Americans.

Irish Women 16 Infographic

Further Reading


Diner, Hasia R. 1993. Erin’s daughters in America: Irish immigrant women in the nineteenth century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins university press.


Ebest, Sally Barr. “Irish American Women: Forgotten First-Wave Feminists.” Journal of Feminist Scholarship 56, no. 3 (Fall 2012). Accessed March 23, 2016.


Graham, Ruth. “What American Nuns Built – The Boston Globe.” February 23, 2013. Accessed March 23, 2016.


Nolan, Janet. 1986. Ourselves alone: female emigration from Ireland, 1885-1920.

NWHM Honors Trailblazing Women in Public Service, the Arts, and Music

March 16th, 2016

Aesha Ash, Ann Veneman and Christine Walevska accepted awards


Washington, DC – March 15, 2016 – The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) recognized three trailblazing women, whose accomplishments helped to pioneer pathways for other women to serve in similar fields, at its 2016 Women Making History Awards held at the Mayflower Hotel. This year’s honorees included Ann Veneman, the first female secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Christine Walevska, the only living female master musician and Aesha Ash, one of the first black ballerinas for the New York City Ballet and founder of The Swan Dreams Project.


Through their professional and philanthropic efforts, these trailblazing women overcame unique challenges in their individual fields and paved paths for other women to follow.


Secretary Veneman, who was the first woman to serve in six of her leadership posts before being named Secretary of Agriculture, accepted an award for her contributions to public service here in the United States and on the international scene as executive director of UNICEF.


Christine Walevska, an internally acclaimed cellist, was honored for her 30-year plus career in classical music, a field still primarily dominated by men. Walevska gave a mini-concert playing Bach and Ennio Bolognini, a composer who asked that only Walevsa perform his music. Walevska dedicated one of her selections to the National Women’s History Museum and its President, Joan Wages.


Aesha Ash, one of the first black ballerinas to join the New York City Ballet and the only one during her seven-and a half year career with the corps, had an outstanding career here in the United States and internationally before turning her attention to inspiring the next generation of dancers, in particular those of color. So was born The Swan Dreams Project, an effort by Ash to promote positive and alternative images of black women.


“This event is a true tribute to many unsung heroes in our midst,” said Wages, NWHM President and CEO. “The countless achievements and contributions women have made in shaping this nation have been left out of the historical narrative and it’s beyond time to correct the record. We are committed to integrating women’s history into the American mainstream; and ensure that future generations will recognize the tremendous value women bring to society.”

NWHM’s mission is to educate, inspire, empower, and shape the future by integrating women’s distinctive history into the culture and history of the United States. A key element of advancing that mission is tobuild a world-class museum on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.


For more information on NWHM or to become a member, please visit





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.


Media inquiries:

For press inquiries or credentials, please contact Melissa Williams at or 703-461-1920.



What Did Girls Want? Independence, Challenge, and a Cool Uniform

March 9th, 2016

One hundred years ago, in 1916, a newly published book encouraged girls to build electromagnets, study the aerodynamics of flight, and send messages using Morse code. It instructed girls in the mechanics of pitching a tent, building a campfire, and using a compass. In a society that adhered to Victorian beliefs that there were “boy” activities and “girl” activities, emboldening girls to become knowledgeable and proficient in non-traditionally feminine skills was somewhat radical.

What was the title of this revolutionary publication? How Girls Can Help Their Country: A Handbook for Girl Scouts. The author was Juliette Gordon Low, the founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.


Low was introduced to scouting in Great Britain, becoming close friends with Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, and his sister Agnes Baden-Powell, who founded a sister organization. The overwhelmingly positive reaction of girl to becoming British Girl Guides encouraged Low’s belief that all girls would benefit from scouting. She formed the first American Girl Scout troop in Savannah in 1912.

The turn of the 20th century saw many changes and challenges old ideas. Women increasingly confronted social conventions that discouraged them from going to college, finding constructive work, or participating in civic life. In a changing world, many parents feared that scouting would encourage girls to become tomboys. Low and the women who helped her to establish troops understood the challenges but also the potential rewards. “If you asked her daughter [why she wants to participate],” Low said talking about the rewards of scouting, “She would probably reply, ‘Because Girl Scouts have real Fun. “But,” she continued, “if I were to analyze the result of Scouting I would tell that mother that the most valuable asset her girl would gain is a sense of Individual Responsibility . . . brought about by Team Work.” Girls who embraced scouting did so precisely because it was a creative program that recognized changing roles.


The 1916 Girl Scout Handbook was the second American edition. It expanded upon the requirements for earning awards and changed the name from merely “proficiency” badges to “merit” badges. While girls earned badges that reflected traditional women’s roles, such as Child Nurse, Invalid Cooking, and Housekeeper, several others required deep exploration of technical and scientific concepts, i.e. “boy” stuff. Girls responded to the opportunity in droves.

Merit Badges


Two Savannah, Georgia troops in 1912 with 18 girls had grown to 70,000 members nationwide in 1920. At Girl Scouts’ silver anniversary in 1937, more than 430,000 girls were enrolled. Girl Scouts numbered over 2.8 million scouts and adult leaders in 2014. Today’s girls honor Low’s mission to foster their individual growth, character, and self-sufficiency. NWHM joins with millions of alumni and supporters celebrating National Girl Scout Week.


By Elizabeth L. Maurer

Director of Program


Further Reading


“Juliette Gordon Low – Girl Scouts.” Girl Scouts of the USA. Accessed March 08, 2016.


General Research Division, The New York Public Library. “Twenty-five years of girl scouting, 1912-1937″ New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 8, 2016.

Cordery, Stacy A. 2013. Juliette Gordon Low: the remarkable founder of the Girl Scouts.


Low, Juliette Gordon, Agnes Smyth Baden-Powell, and Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell Baden-Powell of Gilwell. 1916. How girls can help their country. [Savannah, Ga.]: [Press of M.S. & D.A. Byck Co.].




Women’s History Month

March 8th, 2016

Every year March is designated Women’s History Month by Presidential proclamation. The month is set aside to honor women’s contributions in American history.

Did You Know? Women’s History Month started as Women’s History Week

Women’s History Month began as a local celebration in Santa Rosa, California. The Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration in 1978. The organizers selected the week of March 8 to correspond with International Women’s Day. The movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations the following year.

In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians—led by the National Women’s History Project—successfully lobbied for national recognition. In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the Week of March 8th 1980 as National Women’s History Week.

Carter womens history

Subsequent Presidents continued to proclaim a National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as “Women’s History Month.” Between 1988 and 1994, Congress passed additional resolutions requesting and authorizing the President to proclaim March of each year as Women’s History Month. Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama have issued a series of annual proclamations designating the month of March as “Women’s History Month.”

Each year the National Women’s History Project selects and publishes a theme. The 2016 theme is “Working Together to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government.”

women in public office


#HelpUsBuildIt – Social Media Campaign Going Strong

March 7th, 2016

Who are the women you think belong in a National Women’s History Museum?

On March 1st, the National Women’s History Museum launched the #HelpUsBuildIt social media campaign. The campaign encourages members, friends, and social media followers to join together to build the Museum. NWHM believes that if everyone pulls together, the American people can build a national women’s history museum—the first of its kind in any nation’s capital—in Washington, DC on the National Mall.

The #HelpUsBuildIt campaign’s social media followers have personalized their messages of support and rallied their friends.

Alanis Ava Gale Mercedes Robi

Click to learn more or join the conversation and #HelpUsBuildIt @WomensHistory.

I am Anne Hutchinson / I am Harvey Milk at Strathmore

March 5th, 2016
Saturday, April 23, 2016, 8pm
Sunday, April 24, 2016, 4pm
The Music Center


I Am Anne Hutchinson/I Am Harvey Milk is a new concept opera Starring Kristin Chenoweth & Andrew Lippa, with The National Philharmonic, Alexandria Harmonizers, & Colin Wheeler, words & music by Andrew Lippa. Part choral work, part theater piece, I Am Anne Hutchinson / I Am Harvey Milk is an emotional, musical celebration of two American icons.

I Am Harvey Milk is the story of the civil rights icon’s life from boyhood through his tenure as the first openly gay man to hold public office in California, to his assassination. Grammy and Tony Award-nominated composer Andrew Lippa tells the tale through soaring melodies and beautiful lyrics.

Now for the first time ever, I Am Harvey Milk will be presented along with the world premiere of Lippa’s newest work, I Am Anne Hutchinson. Hutchinson is viewed by many as the mother of women’s rights and religious tolerance in America. In 1637, the Massachusetts Bay Colony tried her for insubordination to the established patriarchal church for the “sin” of forming women’s study groups. While she was branded a radical, like Milk centuries later, her tragic end only strengthened her legend, furthering her cause of women’s independence and pursuit of spiritual grace.

Strathmore is pleased to partner with Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS and the National Women’s History Museum, who will benefit from the proceeds of these performances.

NWHM President Delivers Inspirational TEDx Talk

March 2nd, 2016
Why is women’s history important?
NWHM’s President & CEO Joan Wages explained to a TEDx audience that history provides role models for our nation’s women and girls. Women have been excluded from the popular historical narrative, their contributions ignored. Exclusion deprives women and girls from knowing their past and seeing a future.

“To remain great, our nation must utilize the talents of all of our citizens. To do that, girls must overcome the pervasive gender gaps in our society to become our next CEOs, entrepreneurs, scientists, and senators. They need female role models,” explained Wages.

Mentors guide us on our pathway to achievement, but role models provide the vision to which we aspire. Having both role models and mentors lays a foundation for women to achieve their goals. Wages charged the audience to seek role models in fields where women remain dramatically underrepresented, to promote stories of women, and to aspire to those things that never before seemed possible.

Wages spoke on October 23, 2015 for Ursuline College’s TEDx seminar at the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.

View the talk >>