Women's Business; Exhibit Showcases Achievements

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 23, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Women's Business; Exhibit Showcases Achievements


Byline: Gabriella Boston, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

We're used to hearing about our Founding Fathers and businessmen who helped make this country what it is today. The National Museum of Women in the Arts, with its "Enterprising Women: 250 years of American Business," reminds us that women, too, were and are involved in that enterprise.

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), for example, was a newspaper publisher, the postmistress of Baltimore and, last but not least, printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with the typeset names of the signers.

Martha J. Coston (1826?-1902?), an inventor and entrepreneur, patented a pyrotechnic night signal, a type of maritime communication tool that helped give the Union's naval power the edge over the South in the Civil War.

Both women are among 40 of America's most successful businesswomen featured in the exhibit, which will run through Feb. 29. Besides short biographies of the women, the exhibit includes plenty of artifacts, such as a model printing press; old products for beauty and hair care, including a small gas lamp used to heat curling irons; model airplanes; old-timey brassieres; and even Barbie dolls.

"The main purpose of this exhibit, I think, is to write a new chapter in American history that integrates women into the mainstream history of our business and economy," says Harriet McNamee, curator of education at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Many of the female entrepreneurs featured in the exhibit were involved in traditionally feminine businesses, such as developing products for skin and hair care, cosmetics, fashion.

Among them are Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919), also known as an early civil rights activist; Elizabeth Arden (1878?-1966); and Ida Rosenthal, founder of Maidenform Brassiere Co.

Older teenagers and adults may enjoy the racy - at least for the 1950s and '60s, when they appeared - posters of bras. One, portraying a cowgirl with a drawn gun, dressed in a bra and little else, sports the text: "I dreamed I was WANTED in my Maidenform bra."

Other female entrepreneurs in not-so-feminine business ventures were Wall Street financier Hetty Green (1834-1916), who was the richest woman in the world in the late 19th century, and aircraft manufacturer Olive Ann Beech, who took over as president of Beech Aircraft after her husband's death in 1950. Mrs. Beech championed the company's diversification into aerospace technology, and in 1980 she directed the merger with Raytheon.

The informational texts on each woman contain many inspirational messages and words of wisdom. Mrs. Beech, for example, is to have said, "Being a woman isn't a handicap. ... Ability is the measure of an executive - not gender."

Among more recent names and inventions featured is the Barbie doll, introduced in 1959, and its creator, Ruth Handler (1916-2002). A case shows several varieties of Barbies, including Air Force Barbie; black Barbie, introduced in 1966; and WNBA Barbie, introduced in 1998.

The exhibit also showcases modern-day female entrepreneurs, including multimedia mogul Oprah Winfrey and EBay president Meg Whitman.

The exhibit is targeted toward middle and high school students, but Ms. McNamee says it can be rewarding for younger children, too.

"We hope they can tie these women into their history lessons, whether they're studying the Colonial times or civil rights," Ms.

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