Unlikely Friends – Julia Wilbur and Harriet Jacobs in Civil War Alexandria

February 25th, 2016

HospitalThe opening volleys of the Civil War rang out on April 12, 1981 at Fort Sumter, dividing a country. Over the next four years, battles and politics dislocated thousands of Americans, placing them into theretofore unimaginable situations. For some, the War was an opportunity. Thousands of enslaved men, women, and children fled to Federal territory with little more than the clothes on their backs for the promise of freedom and protection. The immense need faced by the recently enslaved, called Contrabands, aroused individuals and organizations—most affiliated with the Abolitionist Movement—to organize a humanitarian response. Julia Wilbur and Harriet Jacobs answered the call. Thus, two women from opposite ends of the country and social order found themselves brought together.

The dividing line between North and South was drawn just south of Washington, DC, encompassing the small, port town of Alexandria, Virginia. George Washington’s adopted home town voted with the rest of Virginia to secede from the Union. Its proximity to Washington, DC, just across the river, was a threat to the Federal government’s security. Moving quickly, federal troops swarmed the city and placed it under martial law. It remained under Federal control for the duration of the war, much to the chagrin of the city’s loyal, Confederate citizens

Beginning in 1862, thousands of individuals self-emancipated from slavery by fleeing behind Union lines. They migrated to Alexandria in large numbers, causing a refugee crisis. The city lacked the capacity and resources to feed, house, and care for destitute, sick, and exhausted people. The Federal government built barracks and a hospital to house the refugees, and Northern aide societies collected donations to alleviate the suffering. Julia Wilbur arrived in late 1862 as an agent of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. Wilbur, who had trained and worked as a school teacher, was initially sent to organize a freedman’s school in Washington, DC. Her supervisor sent her to Alexandria instead where she discovered that the need for food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention was equally great.

Harriet Jacobs came to Alexandria for a similar reason but from an entirely different background. While Julia Wilbur grew up in relative affluence in New York State, Jacobs was born a slave in Edenton, North Carolina. Jacobs slipped away from her master’s house in 1835. Her grandmother, who was a freed woman, hid Jacobs in a 3’x7’ crawl space over her porch for seven years, until Jacobs could be smuggled out of town on a schooner. Jacobs spent the next several years after her escape living and working as a nanny in New York. She published her slavery and escape narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1861 to moderate acclaim. While living and working in New York, Jacobs became involved with abolitionist societies and met famed abolitionists Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, who were both impressed by Jacobs’ story. After hearing of the refuge crisis in Alexandria, Garrison encouraged Jacobs to move to Alexandria as an aid worker. She arrived in January 1863.

JacobsJacobs and Wilbur encountered each other soon after Jacobs arrived. Wilbur was surprised, particularly as the two women had met briefly years before in Rochester, New York when both were involved in the City’s anti-slavery community. They were not friends at first, but they soon were brought together by their shared frustration with Alexandria’s military governor, John Slough. Neither cared for his governing tactics, which they decried as cruel and counter-productive. Both women worked long hours to provide for the Contrabands’ basic needs including food, shelter, medicine, and education. Both were outsiders to Alexandria, a community that began the War defiant of the Union but came to despise the Federal government as the occupation wore on and life became increasingly difficult. Few native Alexandrians were interested in socially embracing an abolitionist meddler and an escaped slave. The women’s friendship flourished, fostered by their work, shared goals, and mutual respect.

When the war ended in 1865, Wilbur and Jacobs went their separate ways. Wilbur moved to Washington, DC where she secured a clerical position in the Patent Office. Jacobs and her daughter moved south to continue their Freedmen work before relocating to Boston. After several years in Boston, Jacobs and her daughter moved one last time, in 1877, to Washington, DC, where she opened a boarding house. It was in DC that she reconnected with her old friend Julia Wilbur, who was still working at the Patent Office. They remained friends until Wilbur died in 1895. Jacobs died two years later. Their friendship was forged by circumstance but sustained through respect.


Written By: Elizabeth L. Maurer, Director of Program


Further Reading


Roedner, Lauren H. “First Step Toward Freedom: Women in Contraband Camps in and Around the District of Columbia During the Civil War.” The Cupola – Scholarship at Gettysburg College. 2012. Accessed February 25, 2016. http://cupola.gettysburg.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=student_scholarship.


“Harriet Jacobs.” Harriet Jacobs. Accessed February 25, 2016. http://www.harrietjacobs.org/bio.html#escape.


Wilbur, Julia. “D Iaries of Julia Wilbur, March 1860 to July 1866.” Alexandria City Government. Accessed February 25, 2016. https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/civilwar/JuliaWilburDiary1860to1866.pdf.

Three women who did things their own way who were also named Bessie

February 25th, 2016

Black History Month was established to recognize and honor African Americans’ contributions to American history and culture. Too often, women are not included on lists of notables and role models. NWHM recognizes women who have made a difference in history.


Bessie Coleman Flew Airplanes Upside Down

Coleman“Brave Bessie” Coleman became the world’s first female African American licensed pilot. Inspired by the Wright brothers and Harriet Quimby (the first American woman to fly a plane), Coleman believed that she could fly too.

While living in Chicago, Coleman attempted to enroll in flight school but quickly found that no American school would enroll a black woman. She looked abroad instead. Coleman applied to French schools and worked long hours managing a chili parlor by day and studying French at night to prepare. She embarked for France in November 1920. In 1921 she became the first female African American pilot in the world when the French Federation Aeronautique Internationale awarded her pilot license number 18310.

Cheering crowds and scores of newspaper reporters greeted Coleman’s return to the US. They were fascinated by her risk taking behavior that was so far removed from their perceptions of how young, black women were to behave. Coleman barnstormed her way across the country, performing daring aerial acrobatics at air shows wherever she could find an audience. She looped de looped and barrel rolled her way into the hearts of cheering—and integrated—crowds. Coleman refused to perform anywhere African Americans were not welcome. And when asked to conform to demeaning stereotypes, she refused saying, “No Uncle Tom stuff for me.”

Coleman dreamed of opening a flight school where other African American women could discover the same excitement and freedom she found in flight. Tragically, Coleman was killed on April 30, 1926 when she fell from an airplane while practicing for an air show. She was 34 years old.


Following in Her Wake

Coleman achieved a milestone that continues to elude African American women today. She supported herself as a pilot. While women earn pilots licenses, very few become pilots-for-hire. Almost none are African American.

  • 6.6% of licensed pilots are women (2013)
  • 4.1% of airline or commercial pilots are women (2014)
  • 2.7% of airline transport pilots are African American and a fraction of those are female (2014)


Nice Girls Do So Ride Motorcycles

Stringfield“The Motorcycle Queen of Miami” Bessie Stringfield loved riding so much that she would drop a penny on a map and ride to wherever it landed. Over sixty years of riding, she proved that “nice girls” did indeed ride motorcycles. And ride them well.

Born in Jamaica in 1911 and adopted by a white Boston couple at age five, Stringfield was naturally drawn to motorcycles, learning to ride at 16. Though her first motorcycle was a 1928 Indian Scout, she was a Harley woman at heart, owning 27 over her lifetime.

By age 19, Stringfield was taking solo cross-country trips, calling them her “penny rides”. Like most African American travelers in the 1930s, Stringfield faced prejudice and intimidation. Motels refused to rent rooms to her. A pickup truck driver once forced her off the road. But she did not give up on adventure.

“If you had black skin you couldn’t get a place to stay,” she said. “I knew the Lord would take care of me and He did. If I found black folks, I’d stay with them. If not, I’d sleep at filling stations on my motorcycle.”

Stringfield financed her road trips by performing motorcycle stunts at carnivals where she astounded audiences with her skill and daring. A favorite trick was to ride standing up on the saddle.

During World War II, Stringfield joined the Department of the Army as a civilian motorcycle dispatch rider. She crisscrossed the country eight times delivering messages between military bases. After the war was over, she re-located to Miami, Florida where she continued to perform as a stunt rider and earned the “Motorcycle Queen” moniker. Stringfield rode well into old age, and before dying at age 82 in 1993 reflected to her biographer,

“I was somethin’! What I did was fun and I loved it.”


Today’s Women are in the Saddle, Not Just the Calendar

Today, women make up14% of US motorcycles riders, and it’s especially popular among millennials. Much of the increased popularity is a direct result of US manufacturer Harley Davidson’s focused outreach and marketing to women. After profits dropped in 2009, Harley developed a strategy to appeal to women as riders, rather than passengers. They hosted “garage parties” where groups of women were taught motorcycle basics. And Harley introduced new models designed to fit a woman’s frame. It worked. Thirty three percent of female motorcycle owners have a Harley in their garage. When asked why they ride, their responses would warm Bessie Stringfield’s heart. Riding makes them feel sexy, confident, and happy.


Bessie Smith Sang the Blues

SmithAcknowledged as one of the greatest blues singers of the twentieth century, Bessie Smith reigned as the “Empress of the Blues” throughout most of the 1920s.

Smith was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the early 1890s. Her earliest performances were on the streets of Chattanooga where she and her brother Andrew busked for spare change. Smith left home in 1912 to join Ma and Pa Rainey’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels troop and traveled throughout the South on the minstrel and vaudeville circuit. Smith developed an expressive and distinctive style whose emotional intensity connected with audiences. Bessie didn’t just sing the blues; she told stories of love, loss, and heartache.

Smith toured the black vaudeville circuit for ten years before making it big on the national scene. The Theater Owners’ Booking Association (TOBA) booked African American performers in mostly southern venues for black audiences. Entertainment was strictly segregated. Black performers occasionally appeared before white audiences but never in reverse. Tours were grueling. Companies traveled relentlessly, playing short gigs in run down venues.

Smith’s rise to stardom corresponded to an awakening interest in black music by white patrons. Prohibition went into effect in 1920 just as American society liberated itself from straitlaced, Victorian notions of propriety. Music like jazz and the blues with their earthy and sexual themes became a popular accompaniment to speakeasy culture and the liberated flapper.

Smith was overlooked in the first wave of African American performers who crossed over into white venues, in clubs and on records. Her “look” did not conform to the period’s popular standard of prettiness. She was full figured and dark skinned. Her interpretation of the blues was deeply rooted in the African American culture that created it, imbuing it with an unmistakable authenticity. A little too authentic for early cross-over audiences. Smith’s charisma and talent propelled her onto the national stage.

Smith’s first record, “Down Hearted Blues” (1923), was a smash hit, selling 780,000 copies in the first six months. By the end of the 1920s, Smith was the most successful black performer, male or female, in the US. At the height of her career, she earned up to $2000 per week or the equivalent of about $26,000 in 2016 dollars performing in both black and white clubs, predominantly in the South and Midwest. She made 160 records over a ten-year recording career fueling her popularity.

The Great Depression and changing musical tastes stalled Smith’s career in the 1930s. After losing her recording contract in 1933, she transitioned to jazz and big band music and continued to tour. She performed with both black and white musicians including Louis Armstrong, Lonnie Johnson, and Benny Goodman. Smith was slowly climbing her way back up to the top when she died in 1937 as the result of a car accident in Mississippi. Though she was no longer a super star, her funeral drew 5000 loyal friends and fans.

In the words of biographer Chris Albertson, “Bessie had a wonderful way of turning adversity into triumph, and many of her songs are the tales of liberated women.”


Written By Elizabeth L. Maurer, Director of Program


Further Reading on Bessie Coleman

Baldwin, Davarian L. 2009. Chicago’s New Negroes Modernity, the Great Migration, and Black Urban Life. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press. http://public.eblib.com/choice/PublicFullRecord.aspx?p=4322089.

Goyer, Mireille. “Five Decades of Female Pilots Statistics in the United States. How…” Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week. 2011. Accessed February 23, 2016. http://www.womenofaviationweek.org/five-decades-of-women-pilots-in-the-united-states-how-did-we-do/.

Gubert, Betty Kaplan, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannin. 2001. Distinguished African Americans in aviation and space science. Westport, Conn: Oryx Press.

Zirulnik, Michael L. “Airlines’ Flight Decks Lack Diversity.” The Hill. 2014. Accessed February 23, 2016. http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/transportation/218401-the-company-isnt-going-to-hire-black-pilots-anymore.


Further Reading on Bessie Stringfield

Ferrar, Ann. 2000. Hear me roar: women, motorcycles, and the rapture of the road. North Conway, N.H.: Whitehorse Press.

Fleming, Charles. “More Women Riding Motorcycles, Study Says.” Los Angeles Times. December 18, 2015. Accessed February 23, 2016. http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-more-women-riding-20151217-story.html.

Penhollow, Steve. “Harley-Davidson and the Quest for Female Customers.” Harley-Davidson and the Quest for Young and Female Customers. June 4, 2014. Accessed February 23, 2016. http://www.brittonmdg.com/the-britton-blog/Harley-Davidson-targeting-women-and-young-customers-in-marketing.


Further Reading on Bessie Smith

Albertson, Chris. 2005. Bessie. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=187671.


Five African American Women Who Changed America

February 11th, 2016

Black History Month was established to recognize and honor African Americans’ contribution s to American history and culture. Too often, women are not included on lists of notables and role models. Here are five African American women who changed history.

1. In 1957 Althea Gibson became the first African American to win a Wimbledon title. She was also the first African American to play at the U.S. Nationals when, in 1950, the tournament was desegregated. In 1956, Gibson became the first black athlete to win the French Open. In 1957 and 1958 Gibson won Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals, the first African American to win either. Gibson retired after winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1958, having earned 56 titles during that decade alone.


2. Attorney Marian Wright Edelman was the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, after graduating from Yale’s law school in 1963. As an attorney with the NAACP, she represented civil rights activists in 1964during Freedom Summer. She moved to Washington, DC to continue her civil rights work with Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 to advocate for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities. The CDF has urged passage of laws that promise equal educational opportunities for all children, among other issues. As founder, leader and principal spokesperson for the CDF, Mrs. Edelman worked to persuade Congress to overhaul foster care, support adoption, improve child care and protect children who are disabled, homeless, abused or neglected.


3. In 1862, Mary Jane Patterson became the first African-American woman to receive a BA degree when she graduated from Oberlin College Patterson graduated with a B.A. degree and highest honors in 1862

Patterson went on to teach in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and eventually settled in Washington DC. She served as principal of the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (now known as Dunbar High School) in DC during the 1870s – she was the school’s first African-American principal. During her administration, the school grew from less than 50 to 172 students, the name “Preparatory High School” was dropped, high school commencements were initiated, and a teacher-training department was added to the school. Patterson’s commitment to thoroughness as well as her “forceful” and “vivacious” personality helped her establish the school’s strong intellectual standards. Mary Jane Patterson died at her Washington, D. C. home, September 24, 1894, at the age of 54. Although she is a not well-known figure, Mary Jane Patterson was a pioneer in black education and paved the way for other black female educators.


4. Gloria Richardson was a leader in the Civil Rights Movement. She was born in 1922 and grew up in Cambridge, MD. Richardson attended Howard University and earned a degree in sociology. She then worked as a civil servant during World War II. After the war, she tried to get a job as a social worker but the Maryland Department of Social Services would not hire her or any other African American social workers. Richardson helped create the Cambridge Nonviolent Action Committee in 1962. The organization fought to desegregate public institutions. Despite the name, the group refused to commit to non-violence. One protest resulted in Maryland Governor J. Millard Tawes sending in the Maryland National Guard, which remained in the city for about a year. Richardson’s work influenced a rising generation of Black power leaders, including H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, and Cleveland Sellers. She was also on the program to speak at the March on Washington, but was only given the chance to say hello before the microphone was taken away.


5. Aesha Ash is an internationally acclaimed, talented dancer who founded a nonprofit to inspire young black girls to pursue their dance dreams. A student of the legendary School of American Ballet, Ash joined the New York City Ballet at age 18 as its first black ballerina in its corps. She has performed numerous solos and as principal. She has performed internationally, working with the Berjat Ballet in Switzerland and across Europe. She also worked with the renowned Alonzo King’s Lions Ballet when she returned to the United States in 2005. Since retiring, Ash created a nonprofit organization called the Swans Dream Project which uses imagery and Ash’s own experience to present an alternative view of African American women to young girls.


Ms. Ash will be honored at NWHM’s Women Making History gala in Washington, DC on March 14, 2016.

Click here to purchase tickets.





The History of Romance

February 10th, 2016

An estimated 145 million greeting cards will be bought for Valentine’s Day this year, according to the Greeting Card Association, and that’s not counting the boxed sets that children exchange at class parties. Valentine’s Day is the second most popular greeting card holiday of the year. Americans love to express their feelings by exchanging paper declarations of affection.

The giving and receiving of valentines or love tokens dates to medieval times, but the origins of the modern celebration lie in the eighteenth18th century with the rise of romantic marriage. During the 18th century, society encouraged young people to select their marriage partners based on their romantic attachments. This was a decided change from past practice when marriages had been arranged to cement relationships between families or clans and to consolidate fortunes. Brides’ and grooms’ feelings were not of paramount consideration. While love and respect might be a byproduct of marriage, young couples had not entered into marriage with that expectation. That changed in the eighteenth century.

You know what to expect from me, as you have seen my character of a good wife. Suppose I tell you now, what I, in my turn, expect, and how you may best please me and make me happy.—Thus then I begin—Let me ever have the sweet consiousness of knowing myself the best beloved of your heart—I do not always require a lover’s attention—that wou’d be impossible, but let it never appear by your conduct that I am indifferent to you. ~ (Margaret Davenport Coulter to John Coulter, May 10, 1795)

As expectations increased that marriage would be built on a foundation of love rather than mutual, economic interest, the way that partners were selected had to evolve. When parents stopped making the selection, prospective lovers needed to find one another and then determine the extent of mutual attraction. Courtship became a distinctive phase of partner selection, and familiar rituals evolved. Young women, perhaps more than young men, often enjoyed the process of courtship as it represented a time of freedom and choice. The selection of a husband was the most important decision a girl would make, but it was also the most autonomous. Courting empowered young women. They decided who to accept or reject, and some wielded their power ruthlessly.

You know I have never with all my faults betrayed one symptom of vanity, but now if you should discover a little spice of it can you Wonder—just at this moment are at my entire disposal two of the Very Smartest Beaux this country can boast of… . There is much speculation going on as to the preference I shall give & tho I do not intend to practice one Coquettish air … yet for my own amusement do I intend to leave these speculating geniuss to their own conjectures … till I have made up my mind. (Letter from Eliza Ambler to Mildred Smith, February 1785.)

Courtship requires that prospective lovers reveal their feelings and that they do so more creatively and sincerely than their competitors. Exchanging Valentines became a popular way to express those feelings. A popular eighteenth-century Valentine form was a homemade love-letter puzzle. The writer intricately folded the paper, writing a different sentiment in each section. As the beloved unfolded the Valentine, her lover’s feelings were revealed. Many were sentimentally preserved and reside in museum collections today.


Reproduction Love-Letter Valentine: National Women’s History Museum
Reproduction Love-Letter Valentine: National Women’s History Museum



Nineteenth Century Romance Evolves

Romance blossomed in nineteenth-century American culture. Both men and women were encouraged to express their most intimate thoughts in letters. High literacy rates and a reliable postal service facilitated romantic communication. Letter-writing culture flourished. Letter-writing manuals provided sample love letter language for those who were not naturally adept at self-expression. Or, lovers could quote their favorite poets, drawing from an abundance of romantic literature.


The Fashionable American Letter Writer or the Art of Polite Correspondence. Containing a Variety of Plain and Elegant Letters on Business, Love, Courtship, Marriage, Relationship, Friendship, &c. Published by Benjamin Olds, 1839

The Fashionable American Letter Writer or the Art of Polite Correspondence. Containing a Variety of Plain and Elegant Letters on Business, Love, Courtship, Marriage, Relationship, Friendship, &c. Published by Benjamin Olds, 1839

Elizabeth Barrett published the love poems she composed to her future husband Robert Browning, at his insistence, after overcoming her reluctance to share their intimate correspondence.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height. My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight for the ends of being and ideal grace. I love thee to the level of everyday’s most quiet need, by sun and candle-light. I love thee freely, as men strive for right; I love thee purely, as they turn from praise. ~ (“How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways,” Sonnets from the Portuguese, Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

More casual lovers, those of less intimate acquaintance, were able to purchase ready-made Valentines in the mid-nineteenth century. The first commercial Valentines sold in the United States were produced by Mount Holyoke graduate Esther Howland. Following her college graduation in 1847, Howland began to produce and sell fancy, paper Valentines. In 1850 she expanded her operation, hiring local women to craft elaborate creations with ribbon, glitter, and paper lace in an assembly line fashion. Howland ran her New England Valentine Company until 1881 when she sold it to the George C. Whitney Company, headed by one of her former employees. The New England Valentine Company had annual gross sales of $100,000 at the end, demonstrating that romance could turn a profit.


Post Card Valentine – 1907 Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Post Card Valentine – 1907 Courtesy of the New York Public Library

Securing a Mate

Throughout the nineteenth century, middle and upper class married women were idealized for their role as mothers and helpmates. Whereas earlier generations recognized women as making economic contributions to households and family businesses, nineteenth-century social conventions diminished their role. Instead, their part–often called the Cult of Domesticity–was to create a pleasant and restorative environment for their husbands while raising children to be contributing citizens. When households began to be constituted as a breadwinner husband and homemaker wife, the practical advantages of marriage, such as the wife’s ability to economically manage a household, were minimized. While romantic love flourished, there was an increasing idealization of women as mothers and wives.

Women’s eligibility for marriage became increasingly tied to their appearance and social ability, though wealth and familial connections remained important factors to prospective partners. Men took the lead in partner selection, choosing which women to pursue while women waited to be selected. There was an expectation that everyone would eventually marry, both men and women, but men were expected also to establish a career and a public persona. For women, becoming a wife and mother was an achievement to aspire to. Therefore, women were discouraged from participating in activities that might make them less suited to marriage, such as higher education. Society was furthermore suspicious of women who did not marry, often characterizing them as deviants or old maids, and limiting their options.

Modern Romance

While romance remains a prime consideration in partner selection for twenty-first century women, the interest in selecting a partner has waned. In 2006, the Pew Trust found that only 16% of uncoupled Americans were actively looking for a partner. And when they are searching for love, marriage is not necessarily the romantic goal. In 2012, 23% of American men and 17% of women–over age 25—had never married, doubling from 1890 when 11% of men and 8% of women had never married. While marriage rates are down, cohabitation for unmarried men and women has increased. About a quarter (24%) of never-married young adults ages 25 to 34 lived with a partner in 2015. Social scientists have explored factors contributing to a decline in the marriage rate. They point to shifting public attitudes towards cohabitation, increasing acceptance of singledom, difficult economic times, and women’s increased economic independence. Romantic love in modern times has a different feel when women no longer see marriage as an end goal but rather a partnership between equals.



­Additional Readings

Coontz, Stephanie. 2006. Marriage, a history: from obedience to intimacy or how love conquered marriage. New York, NY [u.a.]: Penguin.


Elliott, Diana B., Kristy Krivickas, Matthew W. Brault, and Rose M. Kreider. “Historical Marriage Trends from 1890 – 2010: A Focus on Race Differences.” (n.d.): n. pag. May 2012. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <https://www.census.gov/hhes/socdemo/marriage/data/acs/ElliottetalPAA2012presentation.pdf>.

Lystra, Karen. 1989. Searching the heart: women, men, and romantic love in nineteenth-century America. New York: Oxford University Press.


Madden, Mary, and Lee Rainie. “Romance in America.” Pew Research Center Internet Science Tech RSS. Pew Research Center, 12 Feb. 2006. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2006/02/13/romance-in-america/>.


Saad, Lydia. “Fewer Young People Say I Do — to Any Relationship.” Gallup.com. Gallup, 8 June 2015. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.gallup.com/poll/183515/fewer-young-people-say-relationship.aspx>.


Wang, Wendy, and Kim Parker. “Record Share of Americans Have Never Married.” Pew Research Centers Social Demographic Trends Project RSS. N.p., 23 Sept. 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2016. <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/09/24/record-share-of-americans-have-never-married/>.




National Women’s History Museum Launches New Exhibit On Women In Civil Rights Movement

February 8th, 2016



Washington, DC – As we celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the United States this month, the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) announces a new exhibit for its online visitors. In partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, NWHM launches a specially curated digital exhibit that highlights the significant role and contributions of women in the Civil Rights Movement. The new exhibit, “Standing Up for Change: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement” spotlights the rich and vibrant voice of black women leaders in the movement.


NWHM launched its newest exhibit on the Google Cultural Institute to highlight the role of women as the backbone to several successful campaigns and grassroots organizing during the 50s and 60s. The exhibit spotlights black women and their leadership in the efforts to dismantle Jim Crow laws and challenge injustice. In many cases, the women transitioned their work in post-Civil War reform movements, like the suffrage and abolition campaigns, to the Civil Rights Movement.


“We know that women’s role in American history is often omitted or largely ignored. This exhibit is a celebration and reminder of the essential role that women played in one of our country’s most successful reform movements,” said Museum CEO and President Joan B. Wages.


The National Women’s History Museum is committed to illuminating female role models, celebrated and unknown, to help overcome today’s pervasive gender gap and integrate women’s distinctive history into our daily culture. From Sojourner Truth’s efforts in the early 19th Century to the work of women like Mary Church Terrell, Mary McLeod Bethune and lesser known figures like Daisy Bates and Ruby Hurley, the Civil Rights Movement benefitted from the dedicated and thoughtful leadership of numerous women – although many did not hold positions in many of the dominant civil rights organizations of the time.


To view the exhibit, visit https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/civilrights/index.html.






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 www.nwhm.org, 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 NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.



Media inquiries:

For press inquiries, please contact Melissa Williams, NWHM communications manager, mwilliams@nwhm.org or 703-416-1920.


Clara Barton, the Red Cross, and National Blood Donation Month

January 20th, 2016

January is National Blood Donation Month, which recognizes the lifesaving contributions of blood donors. Women have been of historic importance both as donors as well as donation center staff. But it was one woman, Clara Barton, whose vision of volunteerism during crisis and her founding of the American Red Cross paved the way for the truly amazing system of altruistic blood donation in the US.

Clara BartonClara Barton understood the importance of giving. Barton lived in Washington, DC at the start of the Civil War. When casualties from her Massachusetts home town were brought to local hospitals, she set out to help. She quickly realized that the profound shortage of medical supplies and assistance was leading to unnecessary death and suffering.

Barton established a network for collecting and distributing donated medical supplies. In 1862 she asked for and received permission to transport supplies directly to the front lines. Barton personally escorted wagon loads of supplies across the county, visiting all of the major battlefields in Maryland, Virginia, and South Carolina. Her service continued after the war ended in 1865 when she accepted Congress’ request to locate thousands of missing soldiers and bring resolution to their families.

Barton Thinks Bigger

In 1869, Barton became inspired by the newly formed Red Cross in Europe and set out to create an American version. She wrote pamphlets, made speeches, and lobbied politicians to support her cause. Her efforts paid off when the American Association of the Red Cross was formed on May 21, 1881. Barton was elected the first president. Local chapters formed throughout the country to help people during times of crisis and natural disaster.

The US government turned to the Red Cross in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to promote and coordinate blood donation efforts for the US military. While experimental blood transfusion had been practiced for decades, World War II precipitated rapid advancement in transfusion techniques and brought blood donation to national attention. The Red Cross program focused national attention on the importance of voluntary blood donation, establishing it as a patriotic duty. The program collected more than 13 million pints before the Red Cross ended the military blood program in 1945.

Donation Continues After the War

World War II demonstrated the lifesaving promise of blood transfusion, and, afterwards, blood banks were set up across the country. Today, Clara Barton’s Red Cross alone collects approximately 5.3 million units of blood, from roughly 3.1 million donors nationwide, and distributes over 7.7 million blood products for transfusion. This accounts for 40% of the nation’s blood supply.

Barton recognized the importance of giving help without personally knowing the people who would receive it. She encouraged people to respond to disaster with support. Altruistic blood donations, donations made without knowing the recipient or in expectation of payment, exemplify her commitment to extending generosity to those in need.

Want to learn more?

Additional Sources:

“World War II & the American Red Cross.” American Red Cross. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.redcross.org/about-us/history/red-cross-american-history/WWII.

“About Us.” American Red Cross. Accessed January 20, 2016. http://www.redcrossblood.org/about-us.


Posted January 20, 2016

Research Assistant/Social Media Intern

January 10th, 2016

The National Women’s History Museum is seeking an intern to assist with a variety of tasks including but not limited to historic research, social media (image rights acquisition/fact checking/helping to organize the editorial calendar) and light administrative assistance.

Applicants should have excellent interpersonal, organizational, and writing skills as well as the ability to multitask. Experience with organization or corporate social media highly preferred. A stipend will be provided. Must be able to work at least 20 hours per week. The office, located in Alexandria, VA, is accessible via the Metro. Please submit your cover letter and resume to programdirector@nwhm.org or call 703-461-1920 for more information.

NWHM Finds Americans Have A Lot To Learn About Women’s History

December 28th, 2015

Majority of Americans admit they need help brushing up on their women’s history; notable men more recognizable over female counterparts.


December 28, 2015
Melissa Williams, 703-461-1920


WASHINGTON, DC – A recent survey of more than 1,000 Americans reveal that the vast majority of us are more familiar with our nation’s heroes, than our heroines. Commissioned by the National Women’s History Museum, the survey results indicate that less than one in four Americans can name the accomplishments of Elizabeth Blackwell, Ida B. Wells or Sybil Ludington, whereas more than three quarters of respondents are familiar with the achievements of Neil Armstrong, Frederick Douglass and Paul Revere.

- The survey further revealed that more Americans feel more knowledgeable about sports and celebrity gossip than women’s history.
- Less than 1 percent of Americans know how many women currently serve in Congress or how many women are currently a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
- Only a third of millennials believe they are knowledgeable about women’s history, and just 10 percent of adults over age 55 feel the same way.

“Three-quarters of the people that the Museum surveyed feel that today’s museums are overlooking women’s contributions,” said Susan Whiting, Chair of the Board of Directors for the National Women’s History Museum and a longtime C-suite executive. “We know that there are many untold examples of women’s contribution to our American history, and the Museum will serve as a vital center to gather and illuminate those powerful stories. Time and again, research has proven that female role models – heroines – are powerful motivators in women’s personal and professional lives.”

Ms. Whiting’s lineage traces back to Susan B. Anthony, a cousin on her mother’s side, who was a national icon in the woman suffrage movement.

More than 80 percent of the people the Museum surveyed feel it is important to build a women’s history museum to communicate the breadth of women’s experiences and accomplishments. Once built, the Museum will be the first in the nation to show the full scope of the history of women, and will set the standard for how women’s contributions should occupy a prominent place in national discussions.

“I invite you to help the Museum at this critical point in their journey by simply emailing or writing your Member of Congress, and saying ‘I want a National Women’s History Museum,’” said Ms. Whiting. “Share the survey results with your Member of Congress and tell them that you want to see a National Women’s History Museum on or near the National Mall. You can do this through our website – www.americasheroines.org.”

Earlier this year, Congress appointed an 8-person Commission to study the potential cost, impact and location of the Museum. The Commission, the first of its kind to be privately funded, is seeking public input on a national women’s history museum and will release its findings to legislators in the next 12 months.



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 www.nwhm.org, 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 NWHM.org or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.


About the Survey

The data points referenced above come from a study commissioned by the National Women’s History Museum, conducted by research firm Edelman Berland as an online survey of n=1,001 adults nationwide, ages 18+. Interviewing took place from August 5-10, 2015. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.1 percent.



WMH DC 2016

December 14th, 2015

WMH_evite DC 16


For more information, visit nwhm.org/womenmakinghistory

Nobel Prize Day on December 10 by Considering Women’s Roles in Peace

December 2nd, 2015

Throughout human history, women have rarely instigated conflicts, but rather they often been active in their resolution. Their status as women and the gender roles assigned by culture and society influence how women work towards peace and stability. In radically different areas and time periods, women have used similar methods to achieve peace.

The first American woman to be recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize was Jane Addams, founder of Hull-House and a leading peace activist during and after World War I. Addams was determined to rid the world of war. Starting in 1906 she lectured, wrote, and advocated for ideals of peace. In January, 1915, she accepted the chairmanship of the Women’s Peace Party, an American organization, and four months later the presidency of the International Congress of Women. Addams’ outspoken pacifism and refusal to endorse World War I or the U.S. entry into it, earned her public condemnation. The woman who had been celebrated for her social work legacy serving the poor in urban Chicago, would be publicly excoriated for her opposition to U.S. participation in armed conflict. Addams remained stalwart in the face of criticism and in 1931 she was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel Committee’s citation stated:

From this social work, often carried on among people of different nationalities, it was for her only a natural step to the cause of peace. She has now been its faithful spokesman for nearly a quarter of a century. Little by little, through no attempt to draw attention by her work but simply through the patient self-sacrifice and quiet ardor which she devoted to it, she won an eminent place in the love and esteem of her people. She became the leading woman in the nation, one might almost say its leading citizen. Consequently, the fact that she took a stand for the ideal of peace was of special significance; since millions of men and women looked up to her, she could give a new strength to that ideal among the American people.

Jody Williams is the last American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. Williams was honored in 1997 for her work to ban landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which shared the Peace Prize with her that year. At that time, she became the 10th woman – and third American woman – in its almost 100-year history to receive the Prize. Since her protests of the Vietnam War, she has been a life-long advocate of freedom, self-determination and human and civil rights.

Like others who have seen the ravages of war, she is an outspoken peace activist who struggles to reclaim the real meaning of peace – a concept which goes far beyond the absence of armed conflict and is defined by human security, not national security. Williams believes that working for peace is not for the faint of heart. It requires dogged persistence and a commitment to sustainable peace, built on environmental justice and meeting the basic needs of the majority of people on our planet.

On March 19, 2015, Williams spoke on women in Peace and Conflict at the George Washington University as part of National Women’s History Museum’s forum series “Initiating Change/Adapting to Change.” She was joined by Dr. Wendy E. Chmielewski, the George R. Cooley Curator at the Swarthmore College Peace Collection and the pre-eminent expert in 19th-century U.S. women’s peace movements.


Watch the program on YouTube during National Human Rights Month at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWbx1rN6-HI&list=PLXaqdQe8eghiwp22JBJVBlBSY1laK-5G4