The National Collaborative for Women's History Sites
The National Collaborative for Women's History Sites (NCWHS) was created in October 2001 by representatives of more than twenty historical sites linked to American women and some twenty others from organizations devoted to preserving women's history. "America's story makes no sense with half of its participants missing," argues Dr. Heather Huyck, a historian with the National Park Service (NPS) and a member of the founding steering committee. "Leaving women out of the story is as serious a distortion of our history as trying to tell the history of the Civil War without talking about black history."
The launch resulted from more than two years of meetings and monthly conference calls among historians, preservationists and interested citizens, and participants from both the independent not-for-profit sector and the National Park Service.
Initially funded by a grant from the Northeast Region al Office of the NPS, the new collaborative pledges to support and promote "the preservation and interpretation of sites and locales that bear witness to women's participation in American life (and to make) women's contributions to history visible so that all women's experience and potential are fully valued."
Beth Newburger, director of communications for the National Trust for Historic Preservation and former executive director of the bi-partisan Congressional Women's Progress Commemorative Commission, applauded the new collaborative. "The collaborative can pull together to share resources, experiences and technical information to further common goals. And they can do so without competing for the little grant money available for historical initiatives."
Barbara Irvine, who founded the Alice Paul Institute in 1985 and spent more than a dozen years working to save Paulsdale, the Mt. Laurel, N.J., home of the suffragist author of the Equal Rights Amendment, indicated the group acted from a sense of the urgency. "From our earliest meetings, we realized that a collaborative was the only logical way that those of us already involved in rescuing women's sites could help identify and preserve other places associated with American women's history." A member of the founding steering committee, Irvine added that the group recognized the national need "to support and sustain the sometimes beleaguered local groups trying to rescue endangered sites."
Many of the sites represented at the three-day conference have been on the endangered list. Among them are:
Philadelphia's 1843 Fair Hill Burial Ground, the resting place of many prominent Quaker abolitionists and suffragists, including Lucretia Mott, was so overgrown with weeds and littered with car parts and trash that few of its inner city neighbors knew it was a cemetery. The Star-Spangled Banner House in Baltimore, home of Revolutionary War flagmaker Mary Pickersgill, had deteriorated from a bank to steamship office to shoe repair shop in a blighted part of that city's inner harbor. The Frontier Nursing Service, which brought modern midwifery to the poor of Kentucky hills in the early 1900s, saved its original Craftsman-style building—and still partially supports its medical services in rural areas—by becoming a bed and breakfast. The Women's Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., a cluster of early suffragists' homes and the Wesleyan Chapel where they met in 1848 to proclaim women's rights in the "Declaration of Sentiments."
"In some places, sites are linked with men, but women were there and their stories need to be told," notes Dr. Huyck, Northeast Regional chief historian. "There is no site that doesn't have women's history. If we are to understand who we are and where we've come from, we need to know the whole story."