We have not been the only underrepresented group in American archives: people of different ethnic backgrounds, the poor and middle classes, people of different religions all fall into this category. Archivists are aware of this. Yet, as a woman, I have felt particularly attached to the "women's issue." Why did parents hope for male children? Why was I not allowed to compete in a sport that was labeled as just for the boys? Why was reading a historical book about someone named Molly or Clara unusual during my childhood, while names like George, John, Benjamin and Martin were pervasive? I have thought about these things for as long as I can remember.
A few years ago, I began collecting orphan photos in antique shops. At first I was attached to the costume, faces, and settings. I wondered about the stories. I wondered about the occasion upon which the photos were taken. I wondered about the personalities of the people. Pretty soon, most of my collecting started leaning toward images of women. I wondered about the relationships between wives and husbands, mothers and sons, mothers and daughters, sisters, classmates...Collecting images of women reminded me of the own strong women in my life and helped shed a light on my own relationships.
Archives have a role to play in boosting personal pride. My photos of women are one way I am reminded of my connection to the past - to something bigger than myself. The things I think and do today are grounded by the people who helped build civilization before me. What I do today will help grow the roots and ground my daughter and her daughters (and sons) to something bigger. We keep moving forward, but we are never alone.
Earlier this week, an English teacher in my school brought in an album of images that he collects. Most of the images were of men with beards. My colleague does not have a beard, but it was interesting that he chose these hairy gentleman for his focus...I'll have to ask him if his father had a beard. I found the beards interesting. In fact, images of bearded men remind me of a painting in my living room growing up. The painting was of a rabbi that my mom said reminded her of her grandfather. But the attachment that I have to those visuals is more of curiosity. It does not feel as immediate or intimate to me. Theirs is a related story, but (for better or for worse) it is not entwined so deeply with my own.
Each of us can find something inspiring in history that helps inform our own lives. This post contains some of the photos in my collection to which I am most attached: Women who remind me of my neighbors and my mother; Women who could have been my ancestors; Girls with curls; teenagers with obvious angst (yes, these remind me of me too); young women who remind me of myself during happy and calm times. The struggles, happiness, and education of women found in these images fills me with pride and understanding.
And yet, within each image is also a story of those not shown. We women form a very large community. The community of men stands beside us and overlaps us. So while women's history is noteworthy, it does not forget the rest of humanity.
|Men and Women: A Shared History. Women's History Month|
Happy women's history month. May you too find inspiration and connection to our shared history.