Give It Up for the Ladies at These Women’s History Museums
From Harriet Tubman to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame.
We believe it was noted scholar Beyoncé who asked, “Who run the world? Girls.” Women make up nearly half of the world’s population, yet we’re given just one month to celebrate our contributions to society. This month was hard won, too: What began as Women’s History Week in 1978 didn’t graduate to a full 31 days until 1987.
A womanless history is an inaccurate history, and in 2020 Congress passed a long-overdue bill to establish an official Women’s History Museum in Washington DC. Until then, there are several museums and sites across the country—like the gigantic field pruned to an uncanny portrait of Amelia Earhart—that pay homage to the trailblazers amongst us. And if you make it to the National Mall in DC, grab a photo with one of the 120 orange life-size statues depicting innovative women in STEM, up through March 27. The public art exhibit is called #IfThenSheCan; a QR code on each statue tells you about her accomplishments. And as always in these times, before you visit double check the opening status and make an appointment when necessary.
Rochester, New York
Visiting Susan B. Anthony’s former home, pause for a moment in the front parlor: It was here that the activist was arrested for voting in 1872, before being tried and fined $100. Nearby you’ll find a cafe that marks the year—the 1872 Cafe—as well as the 1872 Monument, a bronze locked ballot box by sculptor Pepsy Kettavong, commemorating Anthony and the 14 other women whose vote brought national attention to the suffrage movement. Anthony’s grave in Rochester’s Mount Hope Cemetery was, until recently, a place for engaged citizens to put their “I voted” stickers after elections. (The practice was banned after the 2016 election because the paste was damaging the stone.)
Ponca City, Oklahoma
The pioneering women of Oklahoma are the subject of the exhibits here, marked out front by a historic 17-foot-tall, 12,000-pound bronze sculpture of a bonneted young pioneer mother, clutching a Bible and leading her son by the hand. It’s called "Confident" (though everyone just calls it the Pioneer Woman statue), and it was commissioned in 1930 by Ernest Whitworth Marland, philanthropist-turned Oklahoma governor. Its unveiling was a big affair, marked by a nationwide radio address by none other than President Herbert Hoover, from the White House, and Oklahoma celebrity Will Rogers. The museum came later, dedicated in 1958, with a new wing dedicated in 1998.
Fort Worth, Texas
The West was not won by men alone. Since 1975 the over 200 inductees into the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame have included everyone from Sacagawea—who guided the Lewis and Clark expedition—to painter Georgia O’Keeffe to US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. More recent inductees include Lavonna “Shorty” Koger, one of the leading cowboy hatters, and country singer Miranda Lambert. Check out exhibitions like Hitting the Mark: Cowgirls and Wild West, which features a hologram Annie Oakley telling her story in own words and some of her personal effects, like a shotgun and a wedding ring. There’s also a Bucking Bronc Room to test your bronc riding skills. You'll be superimposed into rodeo footage, so it's a good time to break out the cowboy hat.
You can’t—and shouldn’t—miss it: the towering, stunning mural of the conductor of the Underground Railroad, arm outstretched to help you on your journey. Harriet Tubman not only routinely risked her life leading enslaved Americans to freedom, but was a spy during the Civil War, providing information to the Union Army. This Maryland museum is the oldest organization dedicated to preserving Tubman’s memory, running tours of nearby sites that were significant to her life in addition to museum exhibits, educational programming, and community outreach.
Wanna see the world’s largest basketball? Look no further than Knoxville, at the entrance to the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. And it is massive. Propped high up in the air, measuring 30-feet-tall and weighing 10 tons, its task might be just as big: welcoming you to the only museum of its type, tracing women in basketball from when they started playing in 1892, just one year after the sport was invented. The museum was founded in 1999 and now celebrates over 171 inductees, plus has artifacts on display like a 1915 Spalding Official Guide for Women’s Basket Ball, edited by Senda Berenson Abbott, writer of the original 1899 rules and considered the “Mother” of women’s basketball. You’re also invited to show off your own skills on three basketball courts, a dribbling course, and a passing area.
Founded over 30 years ago, the National Museum for Women in the Arts houses a small but evocative collection from female artists including Louise Bourgeois, Mary Cassatt, Judy Chicago, Shirin Neshat, and Amy Sherald. The museum is temporarily closed for renovation, but you can see select exhibitions offsite at the American University Museum, and check out online exhibitions like Mamacita Linda: Letters between Frida Kahlo and her Mother, 1930–32, which explores the bond between the artist and her seldom-mentioned mother. Plus, browse their online collection, read artist bios, and look through high resolution works on Google Arts and Culture—like this very relatable photograph by Angela Strassheim, showing we’re all just horse girls at heart.
New York, New York
This floor of the New York Historical Society focuses on how women have and will shape America, through exhibits like a Tiffany Lamp gallery (turns out a woman, Clara Driscoll, was the anonymous designer behind many of the company's popular glass shades), salons like the upcoming “The Dutch Golden Age: Women’s Lives in New Amsterdam and Beyond,” educational resources, and films like We Rise, produced by the museum and narrated by Meryl Streep, highlighting activism and advocacy by women that led to permanent change. Elsewhere you’ll find art exhibits like “Art for Change: The Artist & Homeless Collaborative” featuring works by residents of the Park Avenue Armory Shelter for Homeless Women in collaboration with professional artists and a permanent multimedia installation “Women’s Voices,” highlighting extraordinary women within New York and the nation, and the connections between them.
Seneca Falls, New York
It was here in upstate New York that Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention: a gathering of 300 women in 1848 which produced the Declaration of Sentiments (like the Declaration of Independence, but for ladies). At the Women’s Rights National Historical Park, you can visit Stanton’s former residence (which has a cool nickname, the “Center of the Rebellion”), the Wesleyan Chapel where the convention was held, and the M’Clintock House where the declaration was written. A visit should also include the National Women’s Hall of Fame, located on the first floor of the historic Seneca Knitting Mill.
The first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the world. Her death may still be a mystery, but we do know where the fearless aviator was born: Atchison, Kansas. Not only does the town throw an annual Amelia Earhart festival, it maintains this massive hillside earthworks portrait of the pioneer, made from vegetation and mosaic and viewable by platform. Nearby, the Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum holds Muriel, a 1935 Lockheed Electra 10-E airplane identical to the plane flown on her last journey. And the two-story house where she grew up is a museum run by the Ninety-Nines, the women’s aviation organization Earhart helped form. You can check out the controversial Lucky Strike cigarette ad that ended up costing her some endorsements, because Amelia Earhart changes for no one.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
On Amelia Earhart Drive is where you’ll find this museum on women in aviation. Fitting, she was the first elected president of The Ninety-Nines in 1931, the women’s pilot group named for the number of charter members. Also fittingly, this museum opened in 1999, and now houses over 5,000 square feet of displays and artifacts spotlighting the history of women in aviation and providing inspiration and scholarships for more young women to enter the aviation and aerospace fields. You’ll see an exhibit on Amelia Earhart’s flights, including her scarf and gloves and what looks to be a cigarette case presented to her—the face of Lucky Strike—by The Ninety-Nines (it’s just labeled “box”). Plus, interactive flight tracking, an exhibit on the women aviators of WWII, and a display on the 20 pilots competing in the 1929 “Powder Puff Derby,” the first female trans-continental air race, taking off in Santa Monica and ending in Cleveland.
Not to be confused with the forthcoming Smithsonian Women’s History Museum, the idea for the National Women’s History Museum’s history was sparked when its feisty founders, along with some bipartian congresswomen, fought to have the seven-ton marble statue of suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Lucretia Mott dragged up from the basement of Congress—or the “Crypt,” where it had been gathering dust since 1921—and displayed in the rotunda.
Now 25 years old, a physical presence is in the works, but there are plenty of online exhibits you can check out now, like the Women of NASA and A Century of Entrepreneurial Women. Last year, the museum partnered to display a portrait of Kamala Harris by Simon Berger made with broken glass in the Lincoln Memorial. Why broken glass? Because she’s shattering the glass ceiling, baby.