A year ago, the Smithsonian launched its Institution-wide American Women's History Initiative (AWHI). The initiative calls attention to extensive and impressive amounts of research, work, documents, and stories by and about American women. Women have been placed on the back burner for ages, but now the Smithsonian is ensuring that a diversity of women’s stories is being widely told. Don't get it twisted, though. Just because AWHI is an initiative, does not mean it is a temporary affair. The intent is to raise awareness of women's past, present, and future for years to come.
During my fall semester internship with Smithsonian historian Pamela M. Henson, I primarily focused on launching a collection of oral history webpages dedicated to women of the Smithsonian to support the Initiative. Before my time with the Archives, I had little experience with oral histories. Initially, I understood them as akin to journalistic interviews. I quickly learned that oral histories are far more in-depth and carefully researched. They also emphasize personal memories and reminiscences spanning a person’s life as opposed to highly-focused questions on a specific event or time.
I became familiar with interviews from Olga H. Hirshhorn, Margaret B. Klapthor, Mary E. Rice, Liza Kirwin, Anna K. "Kay" Behrensmeyer, Lorena "Rena" Selim, Kara Blond, and Sally Love Connell—to name a few. For some of these women, I pieced together webpage outlines to highlight each individual and her accomplishments. The webpages will feature audio clips from the interviews paired with the most exciting quotes, a biography of their lives and careers at the Smithsonian, and a slideshow of archival photos. Each oral history truly captures individual personalities. The interviews are filled with revealing anecdotes from each woman's life and her career at the Smithsonian. I encourage you to take the time to learn more about these wonderful women and others.
As a "woman for the world" from Smith College, shedding light on women who were overshadowed in the past is something I am passionate about. Working in support of the American Women's History Initiative has been fulfilling, knowing that I've helped these women gain the acknowledgment they deserve.
Outside of the work for AWHI, I have spent time learning about other facets of the Archives. I completed audit checks for transcripts and composed a finding aid for an oral history collection. I took a deep dive into planning records, memorabilia, and annual reports from the Smithsonian's 150th Anniversary in 1996, which taught me that sometimes archival research results in a wild goose chase. I drafted summaries and accompanying term lists to prepare an oral history collection for transcription. And the tail end of my internship was spent searching for updated pop culture references to the Smithsonian. There's more content out there than just the second installment of Night at the Museum, folks.
The past three months opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of working in the Archives. In a place filled to the brim with a multitude of complexities and quirky personalities, there are always stories to be told at the Smithsonian.
- The Smithsonian in Pop Culture, Smithsonian Institution Archives.
- “Uncovering Hidden Stories,” Because of Her Story, Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.
- Oral history interviews with Olga C. Hirshhorn, Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 9566.