Women's History Trails

Women’s heritage trails are being developed across the United States to share women’s history with the public. From Maine to Florida, Arizona to New Jersey, organizations in cities and states are creating maps that link historic sites to inform the public about women’s stories. They’re creating websites, walking and driving trails and publications about women’s lives and history. Statewide trails are in the works or completed in New Jersey, Florida, Connecticut, Indiana, Arizona, Maryland, and New York. Several city-wide trails also exist, in places like Boston, Manhattan, and Portland, Maine. These trails have a variety of structures, funding sources and methods of interpretation.

By Pam Elam, M.A. and Mary Melcher, Ph.D. 

NCWHS Board Members

You may also view the Women's History Trails map in a new window.

 

Throughout the U.S., several statewide women’s heritage trails have been organized. People have used different models to organize these projects, with some states, such as New Jersey and Florida, relying heavily on their state historic preservation offices. This model assumes that funding is available through the state or grant money is awarded to the state agency. For both New Jersey and Florida, these types of funds were available to develop their trails. In Maryland, the women’s heritage trail has also received state funding, approved by the legislature, through the Maryland State Department of Planning.

The Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail (AWHT) has been organized through different means. The project involves a unique collaborative agreement through the ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, with the Arizona State University (ASU) Institute of Humanities Research of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Through this collaboration, which is in effect through the developmental years only, the ASU Foundation provides fiscal services and shares its tax exempt number. There are three boards which coordinate the development of this project: the Coordinating Council, Scholars & Researchers, and a National Advisory Board. The Coordinating Council, administered by Joan Meacham, AWHT executive director, consists of officials representing major museums, pertinent state agencies, community leaders, women’s organizations, and tribal governments. This distinguished group provides fund raising support and professional expertise when warranted. Mary Melcher, historian, coordinates the activities of the Scholars’ Board, which is composed of historians, academics and archivists, who determined the designation criteria for women and historic sites to be placed on the Trail. It is important to note that this board is representative of the institutions of higher learning in the state, the state library, tribal government cultural centers, preservationists, and other pertinent academic or research oriented institutions. The scholars and researchers now meet two to three times a year to designate women and sites throughout this large southwestern state. Members of the national advisory board serve on some of the standing and ad hoc committees, assist with contacts and provide advice from time to time. These boards have been essential in providing advice and expertise, as well as establishing the project’s credibility.

The project relies on fundraising through grants and private donations. Funders, thus far, include the Arizona Humanities Council, Arizona Department of Tourism, Arizona Public Service, Yavapai-Prescott Indian Tribe, Salt River Project, the Women’s Foundation of Southern Arizona, and private donors. 

To date, approximately 100 women and sites have been designated by the Scholars’ Board and are being added to the AWHT website exhibit, www.womensheritagetrail.org.  Other methods of interpretation for the AWHT include driving and walking tour maps for cities or regions, a traveling exhibit, speaker’s bureau, historic site interpretive signage, and  the development of a fourth grade school curriculum. AWHT is using the same regional breakdown for the state as determined by the Office of Tourism and the Arizona Humanities Council. Project personnel plan to develop driving tours for each of the regions, and where feasible, walking tours within communities. Presently, AWHT is completing a regional driving tour for the Central Region which encompasses the metro Phoenix area and outlying areas. The first walking tour in the historic district of Tucson is now open for self guided tours and for AWHT historian-led tours by appointment. Funding was just received to begin the driving tour and community walking tours research in the Northern and North Central Regions.

The Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail is working diligently to fully represent the diversity of the state’s population by including women from the 22 American Indian tribes, along with those of Mexican, African, and Asian American descent.

EXAMPLE CRITERIA

Here is an example developed by the Arizona Women's Heritage Trail Scholars’ Board and Adopted by the AWHT Coordinating Council in 2006:

 

Goals

  1. Women and sites will be chosen to represent the diversity of Arizona women, relating to class, race, socioeconomic position, culture, religion, sexuality, et al. 
  2. The Trail will represent women’s roles in historical events and the impact of these events on women, at the community, state, and national levels.  These events may concern the economy, community, political activities, reform or social/cultural activities and experiences.
  3. The Trail will represent all geographic regions of the state.
  4. The Trail will illustrate the dynamic interplay of culture, class and economic differences.


Directions in Determining Sites

  1. The Trail will not include women who are living.  The Trail will include women whose contributions were made by 1975.
  2. In determining sites, the project will engage various communities and cultural groups in developing this history.
  3. Sites may illustrate the experiences of an individual woman or group of women.
  4. The trail will include public sites and private residences not open to the public.
  5. The Trail will represent static locations as well as migratory patterns.
  6. In determining sites, scholars will strive for overall balance.
  7. Scholars will take into consideration the variety of audiences who will use the different components of the Trail.


Contingencies

  1. The trail may include physical sites and virtual sites that can only be visited on the internet, if no physical site remains.
  2. Scholars will examine sites on the National Register of Historic Places, and those with a connection to women’s history may be included.
  3. Scholars will examine women in the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame and those with a connection to a historic sites will be included, as well as others.
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