Notes from the Field
Abigail Adams Birthplace Reopens after Extensive Renovations
We are pleased to welcome a new member site, the Abigail Adams Birthplace, to the Collaborative. The essay below -- by Michelle Coughlin, author of One Colonial Women's World (which is not about Adams, but rather Mehetabel Chandler Coit (1673–1758), the author of what may be the earliest surviving diary by an American woman) -- describes the reopening, and perhaps the rebirth?, of this important women's history site in Massachusetts.
Following the completion of a major two-year restoration project in which extensive structural damage was repaired, the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth, Massachusetts, is ready to welcome back the public. Visitors can expect not only a newly stabilized structure, but revitalized tours, a more period-appropriate collection of artifacts, and a host of new programming.
The extent of the disrepair that prompted the renovation first became apparent when, in 2011, past president and current board member Cathy Torrey tried to open a window and it literally came apart in her hands. In-depth architectural analysis and initial repairs subsequently revealed that severe termite damage had almost completely destroyed two of the main structural posts. The restoration work, which was funded by a $150,000 Community Preservation Act grant, was ultimately able to save the posts along with much of the original structure.
Don't Throw it Away: Documenting and Preserving Organizational History
by NCWHS board member Peg Strobel
I will begin with a mea culpa: For most of my early years as an activist, despite being an historian I did a terrible job keeping primary documents generated by the organizations I was in. To make up for my irresponsible past, I’ve spent (parts of) the last fifteen plus years on a project called Don’t Throw It Away! I invite you to join me in this work.
In 1995, archivists in the Special Collections Department of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and I created a booklet, Don’t Throw It Away! Documenting and Preserving Organizational History, and offered classes and workshops to help grassroots organizations get their records in order. (A longer explanation of the early stages of this work is found in Margaret Strobel, “The Don't Throw It Away! Project at the University of Illinois at Chicago,” NWSA Journal, Vol. 12, no. 2 [Summer 2000]: 163-70.) In 2006, we revised the booklet to address issues of electronic records. A pdf of the 56-page booklet is available at <http://www.uic.edu/depts/lib/specialcoll/pdf/DTIA.pdf >.
The idea is this: People who care passionately about issues and who work in un- or under-funded organizations typically prioritize organizing the next demonstration or meeting over organizing their documents and getting them into a repository. So, the booklet and the workshops aim at four points: 1) why is it important to keep good records and deposit them somewhere that historians of the future can find them, 2) what is it important to keep and how do I do it, 3) what are the pros and cons of donating organizational papers to a repository, and 4) how do I find and choose a repository, if I want to donate?
The Betsy Ross House unveils upholstery workshop
The NCWHS is pleased to welcome a new institutional member, Historic Philadelphia's Betsy Ross House. In the article below, museum director Lisa Acker-Moulder describes an exciting new initiative there, to expand interpretation of women in artisanal trades in Revolutionary Philadelphia. Welcome aboard, and thanks for sharing your exciting new program!
The Betsy Ross House recently created a new living history exhibit designed to further expand visitors’ understanding of Betsy Ross and her work beyond flagmaking. Dressing the Bed (made possible with funding provided by the Coby Foundation, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission) takes place in the site’s fully-functional upholstery shop and is staffed by first-person Betsy Ross interpreters.
The National Historic Landmarks Program’s Women’s History Initiative
The text below comes to us from Caridad de la Vega, Historian at the National Historic Landmarks Program, and Alexandra Lord, Branch Chief/Historian at the National Park Service's National Historic Landmarks Program. It draws on their in-house report on the progress of the Women’s History Initiative as well as a NHL nomination developed by R. Laurie Simmons, Thomas H. Simmons and Charles Haecker, and illustrates--through a discussion of the recently-recognized Ludlow Tent Colony Site in Colorado--the many ways women’s history is documented in this program of the National Park Service.
During the past four years, the National Historic Landmarks Program has engaged in a dramatic effort to extend its reach to reflect a full spectrum of people and events that participated in building the nation. While the more traditional subjects of prominent leaders, monumental architecture, and the military and its conflicts continue to be honored with additional listings, the Program also recognized many other aspects of the past.
Beginning in May 2012, a new Secretarial initiative focusing on women’s history was introduced, joining two other Secretarial initiatives (the Latino American Heritage Initiative and the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Initiative; to learn more about those efforts, click here).
Taken together, these new initiatives have resulted in the designation of thirty-one new National Historic Landmarks, all of which reflect and tell complex stories regarding the diversity of the American experience. These thirty-one National Historic Landmarks represent 70.06 percent of the new properties presented to the Secretary of the Interior for designation as National Historic Landmarks since May 2011.
Mitchell House Receives Preservation Award
NCWHS welcomes news from members of the Collaborative. The following comes from Jascin N. Leonardo Finger, curator of the Maria Mitchell House (Nantucket, Mass) Archives and Special Collections, sharing word of their recent and successful efforts to conserve the Mitchell homesite.
From its founding in 1902 to the present day, the Nantucket Maria Mitchell Association has focused on astronomy, the natural sciences, and the preservation of the historic Mitchell House, where America’s first woman astronomer was born in 1818. The MMA promotes the legacy of Maria Mitchell through its programs for adults and children and following the principles of how Maria Mitchell taught – learning-by-doing. This hands-on approach permeates all of the departments at the MMA including the Mitchell House, Archives, and Special Collections.