Women’s role in American history is finally getting a permanent museum exhibit, the first of its kind not just in New York City but the country.
The New-York Historical Society will open the Center for Women’s History on its newly transformed fourth floor on International Women’s Day, March 8. While there’s no part of modern American life, from pop culture to politics, where women don’t have a prominent role, their contributions began even before the nation’s founding and are just now being recognized.
"Our brand new spaces dedicated to studying and telling the story of women’s history will, for the first time ever within the walls of a museum, ensure women’s rightful and permanent place within the broad American historical narrative,” according to the society’s president and CEO, Louise Mirrer.
While the Center for Women’s History will be a permanent fixture of the museum, exhibits will rotate through its main gallery beginning with “Saving Washington,” which puts women into the Founding Fathers narrative after the Revolutionary War. Dolley Madison, President James Madison’s wife, gets especially prominent placement — and not for rescuing George Washington’s portrait before the White House was burned by British soldiers in 1814. An immersive exhibit will take visitors inside one of her famous “Wednesday night squeezes,” which were a hub of informal diplomacy in a time when women were excluded from politics.
The jewel of the exhibit will be a new split-level glass gallery showcasing a collection of Tiffany lamps, which came about after the recent revelation that a designer named Clara Driscoll and her “Tiffany girls” were actually behind some of Louis C. Tiffany’s most iconic lamp designs, including the Dragonfly. The Tiffany Gallery, appropriately designed by a female architect, Eva Jiřičná, will house about 100 pieces, and visitors will be able to design their own lampshades.
Artifacts in the permanent collection will span tennis legend Billie Jean King to the mid-1900s campaign for women’s equality. More locally, a 15-minute film, “New York Women in a New Light,” will explore the women who helped shape the city at the turn of the 20th century.