Preserving Her Legacy: Coming Together to Preserve the Legacy of Women Scientists on Wikipedia

Wikipedians and Archives staff collaborate in the edit-a-thon "war room."
On a recent spring afternoon, ten Wikipedians and staff members came together at the Smithsonian Institution Archives to participate in an edit-a-thon in celebration of Women’s History Month. What is an edit-a-thon? It’s a gathering of Wikipedia editors who come together to write and improve Wikipedia articles about subjects. This event was the first Wikipedia related event to be held at the Archives and the final in a series of month-long Women’s History Month edit-a-thons around the world held by Wikipedians. The event served to not only celebrate this partnership between the Archives and Wikipedia, but also to help memorialize and celebrate the lives and works of women scientists who have a connection to the Smithsonian.

As a long-time Wikipedian, and a student passionate about the representation of underrepresented peoples in public history and culture, the opportunity to join forces with the Smithsonian Institution Archives made absolute sense for me.  My role as a fellow at the Wikimedia Foundation involves me seeking to bring more women and women’s related content to the world’s largest encyclopedia, and the Archives can serve two purposes related to that: first, by sharing their unique and interesting content related to women connected to the Smithsonian, the world’s largest museum complex; and second, encouraging archivists and staff members to participate in the partnership by learning to edit Wikipedia themselves. The latter is all the more important in the goal to involve more women in Wikipedia: anyone who works in the GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) world knows that it is a world that has an opposite problem than Wikipedia does—there are more women than men in the industry.

Archive staff gave the Wikipedians a behind-the-scenes tour of the collection, including the Scopes

So, when this first event brought ten people together, I was so excited to see seven women as part of that group, including staff members and volunteer Wikipedians. I’m always happy when anyone wants to edit Wikipedia, but I’m even happier when women take the reigns and represent their interests (whether it’s women in science, or rock n' roll) and themselves on the website. And we did just that! As the group came together, everyone instantly supported each other by explaining editing processes, helping new editors make accounts, explain the often intimidating but easy ways to cite sources and add images to articles, and how to post those articles to the Wikipedia mainspace. The archivists shared rarely seen biographical materials from the collection with Wikipedians, and Wikipedians utilized those resources to create four new articles, expand one, and upload three new images. Articles were written about entomologist Doris Holmes Blake, botanist Clara H. Hasse, geologist Helen M. Duncan, zoologist Viola Shelly Shantz, and naturalist Anna Blackburne.

One outcome of the edit-a-thon was an article about National Museum of Natural History curator, Viol

While Wikipedia struggles to retain existing editors, and works to improve conditions to be more friendly and helpful to new editors, the edit-a-thon experience furthers that mission by providing both new and experienced editors with a supportive atmosphere and a social editing experience. One of the most powerful experiences of the afternoon happened when two new articles about Clara H. Hasse and Helen M. Duncan, posted by newish editors, were nominated for deletion by other Wikipedians after the editors hit the save button. As the deletion nominations were frustratingly announced in the edit-a-thon "war room," the group came together to fight the deletions: helping one another find reliable sources to demonstrate the notability of the women scientists, and fighting the good fight on Wikipedia discussion pages that debated the deletions. The articles were saved, and even though Helen M. Duncan’s article was nominated for deletion again a few days later, it was saved by support from the community that quickly snowballed. Wikipedians had various valid reasons for declaring the article to be kept, with one editor stating: "Duncan's papers are held by the Smithsonian Institution Archives, which gets this subject 100% over the bar in five seconds in my opinion."

As the community and edit-a-thon group rallied, five more women were represented on Wikipedia with the help of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. As we work to continue to expand on women in science, and related subjects, we hope you’ll sign up to participate on our project page, and help us preserve the legacy of women in science from around the world on the world’s largest free encyclopedia.

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