Nellie Bly, Notice, Undaunted

TribLive and WESA-FM: Heinz History Center to Open “A Woman’s Place” Exhibit Saturday, By Alexis Papalia, March 21, 2024

March 21, 2024

Read this on Western Pennsylvania’s TribLive site here. Also, this audio piece on WESA-FM. 

  

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ALEXIS PAPALIA | TRIBLIVE

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ALEXIS PAPALIA | TRIBLIVE
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ALEXIS PAPALIA | TRIBLIVE
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The new exhibition “A Woman’s Place: How Women Shaped Pittsburgh” opens March 23 at the Heinz History Center.

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ALEXIS PAPALIA | TRIBLIVE
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ALEXIS PAPALIA | TRIBLIVE
Opening this Saturday, “A Woman’s Place: How Women Shaped Pittsburgh” is a new exhibition by the Heinz History Center in the Strip District that chronicles and explores the lives of women from Western Pennsylvania and beyond.

Situated in the first-floor gallery, “A Woman’s Place” is two centuries and more than 250 artifacts of women’s history in a 9,000-square-foot interactive exhibit.

It contains pieces of history including photographs, articles of clothing and artworks, many on display for the first time and some on loan from other collections such as the Smithsonian.

“It’s National Women’s History Month, so it’s altogether fitting that we host this exhibit at this time. Too often the histories of women have been overlooked in the annals of history,” said Andrew Masich, president and CEO of Heinz History Center. “You’re going to learn about women, both famous and forgotten, women who have made a difference in our community and in our nation.”

The exhibit is comprised of a timeline and a series of thematic sections.

One of the prominent features of the exhibit is a variety of women’s clothing, from wedding dresses to military uniforms to union T-shirts.

“What is women’s history? It’s not one thing, it’s not one role, it’s many roles,” said Heinz History Center’s senior curator Leslie Przybylek.

The first section is a linear timeline called “The Battle for Equality,” where visitors can learn about key moments in women’s fight for equal rights, for themselves and other marginalized groups. It contains a wall about the local fight for women’s voting rights and a quilt of T-shirts of activists from the 1970s. It also highlights several current activists from the region.

The second section looks at women in the media from our region, starting with print media and moving on to radio and television. The Heinz History Center procured the bag that pioneering journalist Nellie Bly took on her 72-day journey around the world — inspired by “Around the World In 80 Days” by Jules Verne.

Moving into the section on war and the military, Przybylek remarked, “War brings a lot of tragedy, a lot of sacrifice to families, but ironically, for women, in multiple periods of time … it also, because of the social upheaval, offered chances for women to do things, to show skills, to learn things that otherwise might not have been available to them.”

The exhibition examines military and civilian contributions by women during wars, some of which are deeply tied to Pittsburgh’s industrial past — the image of “Rosie the Riveter” is still prominent today.

“We have things that look at the history of Rosie the Riveter that equate to the present day … what does that mean, and how did we get to the point where a World War II-era figure in history that had a very complicated backstory, now has become this symbol of empowerment?” Przybylek said.

Sports fans will gravitate to the fourth section.

“We wanted visitors to understand … there was competitive organized sport for women in this region before Title IX passed,” said Anne Madarasz, chief historian of the Heinz History Center, referencing the 1972 law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational programs and activities, including sports.

Women who blazed trails in sports such as rowing, bowling, basketball and baseball are featured — including the 14 women from Western Pennsylvania who played in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League featured in the 1992 film “A League Of Their Own.”

“There are these great stories of women who are constantly pushing against those barriers and opening the doors for those who come after,” Madarasz said.

The complicated history of women in the workforce themes the fifth section. The definition of women’s work has changed drastically since 1800, and the laws that govern women’s rights are a large part of those shifts. The segment includes items relating to famous auto mechanic, business owner and TV host Lucille Treganowan, as well as political figures like Elsie Hillman and scientific pioneers like Stephanie Kwolek, who invented Kevlar while working at DuPont.

There’s also an immersive media program that shines a spotlight on everyday women in Pittsburgh-area communities who may not have made headlines.

“What about women in communities like Duquesne and Clairton and Homestead and Braddock, who kept these communities going and kept families together?” Przybylek asked.

The second-to-last section is comprised of artifacts relating to the performing and creative arts.

“Just as women had to create their own opportunities in athletics, so too did they have to create their own opportunities in art,” Madarasz said.

It contains works by women like Mary Cassatt, a visual artist and women’s advocate from Allegheny City; Johanna Hailman, a painter who submitted artwork to almost every Carnegie International exhibition between its start in 1896 and her death in 1955; Mary Caldwell Dawson, who founded the National Negro Opera Company; and Anne Feeney, a prominent folk musician.

The last gallery is about community organizations.

“We talk about how women organize to meet their own needs and meet the needs in their community,” said Emily Ruby, curator at the Heinz History Center.

It includes about 50 organizations from the Heinz History Center archives, with a database so that attendees can take a closer look. The groups range from sports clubs, ethnic and religious organizations, and activist groups.

Przybylek emphasized that the Heinz History Center is still looking to add to this collection, and said that they will encourage visitors to submit historical artifacts and stories of women in the area and beyond by emailing acquisitions@heinzhistorycenter.org.

“I’ve been cognizant of trying to tell these stories for a long time,” Madarasz said. “Really for the last 20 years, this has been a particular interest of mine, seeing women put back into the story and seeing their accomplishments acknowledged.”

“A Woman’s Place” will be open from March 23 to Oct. 6, 2024, and access is included in regular admission to the Heinz History Center. Throughout its run, the History Center will host several special programs, starting on May 5 with “Women’s Journey in Journalism.” This will include a lecture by journalist and author Brooke Kroeger and a panel discussion with local journalists and members of the Women’s Press Club.

For more information on the exhibition, visit heinzhistorycenter.org.

Alexis Papalia is a TribLive staff writer. She can be reached at apapalia@triblive.com.