Women in Humanities

As we begin Women's History Month, I wanted to focus on another group of women documented in the Archives collections, those women in the field of humanities. Humanities studies how people interpret and record the human experience, or in other words the study of human culture. Areas of study could include languages, literature, philosophy, religion, musicology, history, art, and archaeology among others. Just as women in science at the Smithsonian make and contribute to the research and activites at this Institution, so do women in the humanities. 

Some examples of women in the humanities represented in our collections are:

Margaret Brown Klapthor, curator, Division of Political History, National Museum of American History

Margaret Brown Klapthor

Margaret B. Klapthor (1922-1994) was born in Henderson, Kentucky. She graduated from the University of Maryland, B.A., 1943, and shortly thereafter was employed by the Smithsonian Institution as a scientific aide in the Civil Section of the Division of History, United States National Museum. Klapthor was assigned to restoring the First Ladies' dresses, the collection of White House gowns, which eventually became the First Ladies Hall exhibition at the Museum of History and Technology in 1964. Her positions later included Assistant Curator, 1947-1948, in the Section of Civil History, Division of History; Assistant Curator, 1949-1951, and Associate Curator, 1952-1957, in the Division of Civil History; and Associate Curator, 1957-1970, Curator, 1971-1983, and Curator Emeritus, 1984-1994, in the Division of Political History. Klapthor published many articles and several books during her tenure, including The Dresses of the First Ladies of the White House and Official White House China: 1789 to the Present.

Claudia Brush Kidwell, Assistant Director of the Museum of History and Technology, now the National

Claudia Brush Kidwell

Claudia Brush Kidwell started her career at the Smithsonian as an intern in the Division of Textiles at the Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) in 1961. After completing her undergraduate study at the University of Maryland and afer receiving her master's dregree from Pennsylvania State University in 1964, Kidwell returned to be a Curator in the Division of Costume. She would come to serve as Chair of the Division of Cultural History and would later serve as Acting Director of the Museum of History and Technology.

Mary S. M. Gibson, January 1954, Frank J. Gilloon Agency, Record Unit 267: Cooper-Hewitt Museum, Rec

Mary S. M. Gibson

Mary S. M. Gibson a curator at the Cooper Union Museum (now the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) from 1904-1945.

Dr. Lillian B. Miller at LaSalle University at a symposium celebrating the publication of the Volume

Dr. Lillian B. Miller

Dr. Miller was a historian of American culture and editor of the Peale Family Papers at the National Portrait Gallery. She started at the Smithsonian in 1971 and published five volumes on the Peale Family Papers as well as organized  the traveling exhibition, "The Peal Family: Creation of a Legacy, 1770-1870" which included works produced over a century by 11 members of the Peale Family. She was the first member of her family to get a college education, graduating magna cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1943, having worked her way through school as a secretary to the astronomer Harlow Shapley. At first she had aspirations of persuing literature, but ultimately felt the pull of history. She attended graduate school at Columbia University to study American history, receiving her master's degree in 1948 and her doctorate in 1962. Her dissertation, "Patrons and Patriotism: The Encouragement of Fine Arts in the United States, 1790-1860" was published in 1966 and she was an associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin before coming to the Smithsonian. In addition to her work at the Smithsonian, Dr. Miller was a professorial lecturer at George Washington University; served on the Council for the Institute for Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia; and on the executive board of the American Studies Association.

These women are just a small representation of those who contributed to the exhibitions, research, publications, and public programs put forth by the Smithsonian. They also just so happen to not have Wikipedia entries.

Please join the Archives for Women's History month as we share a series of blog posts on the women in our collections.

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