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Women of the UA: Our History is Our Strength (exhibit)

Women's Plaza of Honor, University of Arizona
Women's Plaza of Honor, University of Arizona

Dates: February 2, 2011 - March 17, 2011

Location:   Main Library

Contact: Rebecca Blakiston


In celebration of Women’s History Month this March, the University Libraries’ special exhibit Women of the UA: Our History is Our Strength commemorates the historical contributions of University of Arizona (UA) women towards the growth of the university from its inception to today and marks the ongoing efforts of the library to recognize the multitude of perspectives that have made the UA a 21st-century institution, while showcasing materials from our Special Collections.

The exhibit, which will be open from February 2 to March 17 in the Main Library, recognizes influential women from the University of Arizona’s history, including the first woman graduate, librarian, and professor. The history of women in sports is highlighted, as well as the historical role of sororities in supporting female students. The exhibit also looks at UA women in the music, art and science fields, and includes a look at the Women’s Studies Department, as well as historic and current women’s studies-related research produced by the Southwest Institute for Research on Women (SIROW). Sally Stevens, the current executive director of SIROW, will join Myra Dinnerstein, the founding director of the UA Women’s Studies Department in presenting a corresponding lecture to be held on Tuesday March 1st in the Main Library from 5:30-6:30 p.m. with a Q&A to follow.

Each year National Women’s History Month—officially established by Congress in 1987—employs a unifying theme and recognizes honorees whose work and lives testify to that theme. The theme for March 2011 is “Our History is our Strength,” and this year, instead of focusing on national honorees, local organizations and institutions throughout the country have been asked to honor women within their own communities. Women of the UA recognizes influential women from the history of the UA, highlighting their exceptional contributions to the university.

This exhibit features a number of books, articles, journals, and photographs chronicling such events as the founding of The Department of Women’s Studies (1975) and the sorority Gamma Phi Sigma (1905), as well as the effect of Title IX on women’s athletics at the UA, and the addition of female musicians to the Pride of Arizona Marching Band in 1951 (some men reportedly complained that having girls around caused a decline in spirit, but as the exhibit shows, equality prevailed).

The exhibit also showcases the work of women in the SIROW and WISE (Women in Science & Engineering) programs, programs established at the UA in the seventies that have continued to grow in influence and renown. The exhibit highlights work from Harmony Hammond, a pioneering feminine artist, Gail Burd, a Distinguished Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Cell Biology and Anatomy, Louise Foucar Marshall, the UA’s first woman professor, and several others.  

Many of the pieces on display in Women of the UA: Our History is Our Strength are normally housed in the University Libraries’ Special Collections and were selected specifically for this exhibit. Verónica Reyes-Escudero, an Associate Librarian in Special Collections, provided a few tips towards finding material from which to select for the exhibition: While there is no specific Women’s Collection, per se, one can browse key words—sorority, feminism, Title IX, and of course, WISE and SIROW. Looking under “women’s physical education” leads to one of Special Collections more frequented women’s history-related collections, that of Ina Gittings, a UA faculty member (1921-1951), a proponent of advancing women’s physical education, and a founder of the Women’s Athletic Association.

Reyes-Escudero points out that there are relatively few holdings in Special Collections that focus specifically on women’s history, and women’s contributions to the university, a fact that possibly reflects the traditional focus of history on telling his stories. This focus however, is shifting. In March 1980 President Jimmy Carter kicked off what was then National Women’s History Week with this message:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. ‘Women’s History is Women’s Right.’ – It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision. And understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people.

Women of the UA: Our History is Our Strength was curated by Rebecca Blakiston and Jill Newby, both Instructional Services Librarians, Mary Feeney, a Research Support Services Librarian, and Stephan Przybylowicz, a graduate student volunteer working towards an MA in Information Resources & Library Science.

For more information on Women’s History Month 2011 please visit http://www.nwhp.org/whm/