Putting Women in a Man’s World: Making a Conscious Effort to Include Women in Museum Exhibits
Leah Tookey, New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum
History museums are created to tell a certain story about a place, a time, a people, or a way of life. How we tell that story determines whether or not we fulfill our mission. Gender may not be a determining factor when museum staff decides how they tell the story, but it should be. For example, in an exhibit that tells the story of Cowboys in New Mexico, where do women fit in? Are they part of that story? Should they be included? This is the question that was asked when the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum prepared to install a new exhibit, “Cowboys: The Real Deal.” The answer seems like an easy one; of course women were important to the cattle industry in New Mexico. Women lived on ranches, they cared for livestock, worked cows, fixed windmills, and did all the other jobs cowboys did, but are women cowboys, do they fit in the story? What about an exhibit on bees and beekeeping? Beekeepers can be women, but should a museum pay particular attention to women beekeepers? Is it important to tell their story? This paper will examine how a museum that tells the story of rural and agricultural life in New Mexico attempts, and succeeds, in putting the story of women into its exhibits, even when they may not seem a natural fit.
Leah Tookey will present this paper as part of a panel on “The Rural Imaginary in Popular Culture” at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in June 2017. We hope that you’ll join us for this panel, which features work by several members of the Rural Women’s Studies Association. Can’t make it to New York for the conference? Stay tuned for additional abstracts from this session coming soon on this blog.
Long-time RWSA members will remember that Leah’s institution, the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum co-hosted a joint conference of the RWSA and the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museums in Las Cruces, New Mexico in February 2003.