Putting Women Back in History

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Seven Tips for Putting Women Back in History

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Every site has women’s history. Every single historic site is a women’s history site -- including the ones you don’t think are. If you think not, look again, and think about what prejudices or blind spots you might bring to the process.

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Include women in a wider context. Always put the women and girls at a site into a wider context of history. Begin to incorporate women and girls into your broader narrative even before you find specific stories pertaining to the women who were there.

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Think about all of the women. Share how expectations for women varied by culture and time. Overall, women were essential to the economy but not always visible, so tell the whole (and often untold) story.

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Use resources connected to women. Start by looking around! Assess what you already know about the women of the household. Don’t assume you have already unearthed everything. If you are near a college or university, find an enthusiastic intern to help.

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See women in a more inclusive role. Think about women not only in relation to men, but also as independent actors. Historic places were complex and interconnected, just like human relationships. Show those organic relationships in your interpretation as well.

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Avoid stereotypes. Do interpret needlework, cooking, and other “typical” women’s endeavors, but look beyond them too. Women were -- and are -- multi-dimensional.

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Let the women speak for themselves. Use direct quotes from the women or from their contemporaries. Add well-documented stories to your narrative. Don’t make anything up or rely on legend; the real story is always more interesting.

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Photos Courtesy: Villa Lewaro Madam C.J. Walker’s estate, 1924: A’Lelia Bundles/Madam Walker Family Archives. First Lady Truman with Girl Scouts, 1952: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons. African American Woman Machinist at DC Naval Gun Factory, 1943: Washington Area Spark, Flickr. Excavations at the old Champoeg townsite in Oregon, 1974: John Atherton, Flickr. Mary McLeod Bethune with Daytona school girls: Moni3 and Florida State Archives Photographic Collection, Wikimedia Commons. Female blacksmith interpreter at Colonial Williamsburg: Jessica A. Ross, Google Creative Commons Images. Madam C.J. Walker driving: Theda, Wikimedia Commons.