Keep one eye on the past and the other on the future. That's the
way women's lives come into focus at a new museum here in Dallas.
Even before it opens its exhibit space on Friday, The Women's
Museum: An Institute for the Future, has begun to expand
opportunities. Take the middle-school girls who checked out the
technology training offered by the museum last spring.
Suddenly, their regular teachers said they were more engaged in
class than they had ever been. They became so enthralled with
computers - and with the female mentors who showed them that
technology can be fun - that they asked to volunteer to help set up
computers at the museum over the summer. When the interactive
exhibits fire up this week, the handiwork of this new generation of
tech-literate girls will also be on display.
Gone are the days when first ladies' gowns and suffragists'
protest placards were tacked on as a sidebar to history exhibits.
With five other major museums on the drawing board in the US, it's
clear that spaces for telling women's stories are in demand.
"Museums are ritual places where we present what we value. And with
the beginning of the third millennium, people are recognizing that
it's time that we say that women's contributions are valuable,"
says Cathy Bonner, founder and board president of The Women's
Museum. "With more than 8,000 museums in the United States, there
was not one comprehensive women's history museum until now."
What these new museums share is a sense that looking back on
women's struggles and accomplishments is only worthwhile if it
informs a look forward - a continuing movement toward equality.
The timing coincides with academic work that is reaching critical
mass. "In the past 25 to 30 years, there's been incredible
scholarship going on in women's studies..., but the fact is that
those studies haven't had a broader chance to filter down into the
public," says Elizabeth Colton, board president at the
International Museum of Women, which is searching for a site in San
Politicians and philanthropists are increasingly willing to throw
their support behind these endeavors. That's partly because recent
years have seen the anniversaries of both the 19th Amendment
(granting women the right to vote, in 1920) and the 1848 Women's
Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., now home of the National
Women's Hall of Fame.
"There is a spirit of exploration ... and an honest desire to say
those contributions from the women whose shoulders we're standing
on are indeed valuable," says Virginia S. Harris, chairman of the
Christian Science Board of Directors. The board is planning new
facilities for the Mary Baker Eddy Library for the Betterment of
Humanity in Boston which will open in 2002.
A futuristic edge emerges both in the high-tech exhibits the
museums are planning and in their educational outreach.
"The technology is driving the future of everything," says
Candace O'Keefe, executive director of the Dallas museum. "Women
need to acknowledge that ... it's leveling the playing field for
us. If you're going to be a successful citizen in the 21st century,
you've got to appreciate and be comfortable with technology,
whether you're an artist or an astronaut."
Alvanetta Herring and some fellow eighth-graders at the nearby
Pearl C. Anderson Middle Learning Center already have the proud
glow that comes with beginning to master computer skills. "I
learned how to build a roller coaster and how it moves.... It
doesn't just fall flat, it has its own inertia," Alvanetta says of
the course at the museum's Ronya Kozmetsky Institute for the
Although classes will also be available to women, boys, and men,
the girls' programs aim to reach them at an age when studies show
they begin to lose enthusiasm for math and science, says education
director Robin Windham. …