Sharing Her Stories through Heritage Trails A National Movement to Link Women’s History with Historic Sites
- Parent Category: Projects
By Pam Elam, M.A. and Mary Melcher, Ph.D.
NCWHS Board Members
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.
The New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) organized the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail which was initially funded by the State Legislature. New Jersey SHPO hired a consulting firm, Preservation Partners, to conduct a statewide survey of historic sites connected to women’s history. The consultants identified sites that were associated with “an historical event or activity that reflects the broad patterns of women’s lives…or a particular woman who had an impact on New Jersey” (Preservation Partners Consultants, “New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail Project Final Report: Executive Summary and Appendices.” June 21, 2002, revised Feb. 7, 2003). The project consultants developed a “Women’s Historic Sites Context Study,” which provided a foundation for decisions about identification, evaluation, registration and treatment of historic properties. They began with a long list of over 300 sites that was eventually reduced to 150 sites which received intensive treatment. In 2004, the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office published the New Jersey Women’s Heritage Trail wire-bound book with photos and descriptions of 90 sites in five different regions, organized by themes, including women’s work; women in domestic life; women’s voluntary organizations and reform movements; women in the arts; culture and sports; and women and education. Their first printing included 6,000 copies; they have now completed a second printing.
At this time, the New Jersey Historic Preservation Office is working on interpretive signage for their women’s heritage trail. They received funding from the New Jersey Historic Trust to create 16 signs initially and will do an additional 16 signs in the near future. They have not created a website related to the trail due to lack of available funding.
Florida also has a women's heritage trail publication, produced through a state historic preservation grant project in 1999. The Florida Association of Museums received the $50,000 grant from Florida SHPO to produce the Florida Women's Heritage Trail. The publication was distributed widely to public libraries and public schools throughout the state. The Florida Division of Historical Resources has also created heritage trails related to the state's African American, Cuban, Jewish, World War II, and Native American history. They view their publications as a resource for heritage tourism.
The Florida State Historic Preservation Office produced 5,000 copies of the Florida Women's Heritage Trail. The publication's inventory is nearly exhausted, and there are no plans to re-print or update the listings because funding is unavailable. They see the publication as a broad representation of resources connected to women's history and hope to boost heritage tourism through this popular publication and the trail designations.
People in Arizona are also working on the Arizona Women’s Heritage Trail (AWHT), which links women’s history to historic sites throughout the state. This project began in 2005 by the two primary founders, Joan Meacham, Director, and Mary Melcher, Historian. There are three founding boards, the Coordinating Council, Scholars & Researchers, and a National Advisory Board. Melcher coordinates the activities of the Scholars’ Board, made up of historians, academics and archivists, who determined the criteria for women and historic sites to be placed on the Trail. This board also designates women and sites throughout this large southwestern state. The Coordinating Council, administered by Meacham, 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. The AWHT is in collaboration with Arizona State University’s Institute for Humanities Research of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Through this collaborative agreement, the ASU Foundation provides fiscal services and shares their tax exempt number.
To date, approximately 70 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 maps, walking and or driving tours in cities or regions, a traveling exhibit, speaker’s bureau, historic site interpretive signage, and the development of a fourth grade school curriculum.
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. Funding has been provided from a variety of sources including corporations, the Arizona Humanities Council, Arizona Office of Tourism, private foundations and individuals. The AWHT is planning a gala opening in 2011 and is striving to meet the project interpretive goals by 2012, Arizona’s statehood and woman suffrage centennial.
The Indiana Women’s History Trail is a collaborative program focused on bringing more attention to women in Indiana history. Staffed by volunteers, organizers of this Trail are working to acquire State Historic Markers for sites connected to women’s history. For example, one new State Historic Marker is at the site of the first women's rights convention, held in 1851 and located on the old national road, US 40. Site nomination information, historic material about Indiana women, and a map by counties can be viewed on the Indiana Historical Bureau website. Statewide partners include the Indiana Women's History Association, Indiana Commission for Women, Division of Historic Preservation and Archaeology, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Indiana Historical Bureau, Indiana State Library, and Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs. There is no specific funding for the project. Project partners hope to find as many women in history and historic sites as possible in all of Indiana’s 92 counties. There are also future plans to have printed maps and guides for local walking and driving tours, brochures, and other educational pieces to further the project. Presently, there is a walking tour on women in medicine around the Indiana University Medical Center. Organizers hope that a web database can be expanded.
The Maryland Women's Heritage Center, in conjunction with the Maryland State Department of Education, published a guidebook and map of the Maryland Women's Heritage Trail (MWHT). The MWHT includes more than 150 sites across the state, reflecting the accomplishments of diverse historical and contemporary women.
The Maryland Women's Heritage Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-partisan organization. It started in 1980 as the Maryland Women's History Project and has evolved and expanded and presently has staff, a Board and an Executive Committee. It also has four committees: Program/Education, Marketing, Development, and Site/Building. The leadership of the MWHC is drawn from women's organizations, state and local Commissions for Women, Women Legislators of Maryland, Women's Studies Programs, the Maryland State Teachers' Association and local historical networks. The MWHC has received funding from the Women's Caucus of the Maryland State Legislature, businesses, and other sources. The MWHT interprets women’s past through a website, publications, programs and events. They have exciting plans for the future. In March of 2009, the MWHC will open a new home in Baltimore which includes a museum, resource center, archives, meeting rooms, and art gallery, as well as being the home of the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame.
Founded in 1993, the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (CWHF) showcases the contributions and history of Connecticut women. The CWHF founded the Connecticut Women's Heritage Trail, which is a constellation of 14 museums and historic houses around the state committed to the interpretation of women's history and culture. The CWHF is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a staff, including an Executive Director, Director of Development, Office Manager, and Program Associate. The Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame interprets women’s history through a website, educational outreach programs, traveling exhibits, youth conferences, speakers, curricula, projects, and collaborations. Through the website, it promotes the museums and historic houses that interpret women’s history, such as the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center and the Windham Textile and History Museum.
People in New York State also developed a women’s heritage trail. In 1998, the Commission Honoring the Achievements of Women created a map of 83 sites throughout New York State which honor women and their contributions. Governor George E. Pataki appointed the commission that developed "Where Women Made History - A Traveler's Guide to Historic Sites Honoring the Extraordinary Women of New York State." Apart from this map, New York State has a Historic Marker Program, but no listing of historic markers honoring women is available. The Traveler’s Guide is copyrighted by the NYS Department of Economic Development and funding may have either come from there or from the Governor's Office. It was published and distributed in 1998 to highlight the 150th Anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention, and it was never updated. Presently, there is no website or contact person connected to this project.
There is another women’s heritage trail in the works in New York State called the “Votes for Women History Trail Route.” Congress just passed, but the President has yet to sign, the National Women's Rights History Project Act which is a section of the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. The legislation has three parts that come directly from the Women's Rights National History Trail Feasibility Study commissioned by Representative Louise Slaughter in 1998 and completed in 2002. The legislation would do the following: establish a trail route linking sites significant to the struggle for woman suffrage and civil rights; expand the current National Register travel itinerary website to include additional historic sites; and require the Department of Interior to establish a partnership-based network to offer financial and technical assistance for interpretive and educational program development of national women's rights history. (The National Register travel itinerary website is "Places Where Women Made History.")
The State of North Carolina produced a map identifying 31 sites important to women’s history. (The map contains no date.) They range from Penelope Barker (1728-1796) who in 1774 organized 52 women in her coastal plains community of Edenton to boycott tea and other English products, to author Thomas Wolfe’s innkeeper mother Julia Wolfe (1860-1945) in the western Mountain town of Asheville. The map was jointly produced by the Department of Cultural Resources, Division of Archives and History, Archaeology and Historic Preservation Section; the Historical Publications Section; and the North Carolina Museum of History Section. Coordinator of the Project Margaret Supplee Smith published, with Emily Herring Wilson, North Carolina Women Making History (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
Over a dozen city trails marking women’s historic sites have been created throughout the United States, with most appearing on the East Coast. In 1989, a group of Boston Public School teachers, librarians and students founded the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail (BWHT). The Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail already existed, and this new group was determined to "remember the ladies." Through educational programs, publications and outreach initiatives, the BWHT is dedicated to weaving the lives and work of women back into the story of Boston. The BWHT is a nonprofit organization with an all-volunteer Board of Directors and Advisory Board as well as Consultants. Methods of interpretation include a website, newsletter - "The ProclaimHer," self-guided and guided walks through Boston (Back Bay, Beacon Hill, Downtown, Jamaica Plain, North End, South Cove/Chinatown, Charlestown, Lower Roxbury, Roxbury, South End, and West Roxbury), guidebook, brochures, and teaching materials. This is one of the oldest, if not the oldest women’s walking tour. The BWHT will be celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2009, with programs in collaboration with other organizations. The BWHT is also working on membership development, updating its website, and increasing its visibility.
Those who created the BWHT have been working with teachers and students in schools throughout the Boston area to develop additional women’s heritage trails. A class of young women at the Codman Academy Charter School developed the "Dorchester Women's History Trail: Uphams Corner Walk" during a ten-week course on Dorchester History. The BWHT partnered with the Codman Academy Charter School and the Dorchester Historical Society to create this Trail which was made possible by a grant from the History Channel's "Save Our History" program. The group has also created a trail brochure for the public.
The BWHT also aided student-created tours in Charlestown, Lower Roxbury, Roxbury, South End and West Roxbury. Sixth, seventh and eighth graders in a Friday morning club at the Henry Dearborn School in Roxbury made the “Voyages of Women” walk. The students visited with local women and organizations, conducted interviews, made a quilt and a giant banner, and designed the logo. The tour is displayed on the BWHT website.
In the Brighton Allston area of Boston another trail exists, developed by the Women’s History Group, which is made up of volunteers of the Brighton-Allston Historical Society. They organized the Brighton-Allston Women’s Heritage Trail, featuring 16 notable women and women’s organizations in their community. The trail describes the lives and work of women authors, working women, and community builders. Brighton-Allston celebrated it bi-centennial in 2006, providing an opportunity for city funding which printed the trail guide. Now these guides are sold at the Brighton Allston Heritage Museum.
In nearby Cambridge, the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project (CWHP) grew out of a grassroots effort to establish a memorial to writer May Sarton, which was accomplished with the dedication of a tree and plaque in her honor at the Cambridge Public Library's main branch in 1996. The CWHP then continued to work toward recognizing and celebrating the contributions of other Cambridge women and women's organizations to the life of the City, Commonwealth and Nation by creating the Cambridge Women’s Heritage Database. Its website was launched in March of 2007. Volunteers comprise the Cambridge Women's Heritage Project Advisory Committee. The CWHP is jointly sponsored by the Cambridge Women's Commission and the Cambridge Historical Commission. Methods of interpretation include a website, Cambridge Women's Heritage Database, receptions/talks, and Women of Central Square Walking Tour. The Cambridge Women’s Heritage Project intends to continue to expand its diverse database by accepting more nominations for women's organizations and individual women, living or deceased, famous or locally known. There are currently over 400 nominations and over 150 have been edited and are now available through the website. The CWHP also wants to create more women's themed walking tours throughout the City.
Created in 2000, the Salem Women’s Heritage Trail is the result of collaboration between community organizations and volunteers including the following: Salem Chamber of Commerce, Destination Salem, Salem Maritime National Historical Site, the House of the Seven Gables, Peabody Essex Museum, Derby Square Tours, Historic Salem, Inc., Salem Athenaeum, Salem Evening News, Salem Public Library, and Salem State College. The Caroline Emmerton Committee of the Salem Chamber of
Commerce secured funding from individuals, businesses, and organizations
in Salem to publish a guidebook, support special events, and create a website (www.swht.org). Today the author of the guidebook, Bonnie Hurd Smith, gives guided walking tours of the trail and talks for local community groups and schools.
In 2008, to celebrate the Centennial year of New England Law|Boston
(which was founded in 1908 as Portia Law School, the first law school for women in America), Bonnie Hurd Smith wrote Boston Women & The Law: A Walking Trail through Four Centuries of Boston Women's Legal History. The 76-page book is a self-guided tour of historic sites in downtown Boston with a connection to Boston women's legal history. The book also lists key sites "off the trail," and features an appendix of national "firsts" in women's legal history. The book is available for sale at www.bonniehurdsmith.com.
Several women’s heritage trails have been developed in Maine through the leadership of Polly Welts Kaufman. Kaufman served as Project Director for "A Women's History Walking Trail in Portland, Maine" and "Working Women of the Old Port." The first was supported by the University of Southern Maine in 1997, and the second received support from the Maine College of Art in 2003. The “Portland Women's History Trail” (PWHT) is divided into four walks and introduces women from two centuries in a variety of settings, activities and backgrounds. The two downtown walks, Congress Street and State Street, can be combined or traveled separately. The two neighborhood walks are Munjoy Hill and West End. “Working Women of the Old Port" is the fifth women's history trail in the series. A Planning Board worked on this project, and students helped with research. The Maine Humanities Council supported the PWHT with two major grants, while the Women's Studies Program at the University of Southern Maine provided additional assistance. For the 2003 project, students, faculty and staff at both the University of Southern Maine and the Maine College of Art participated. Methods of interpretation include booklets, website and tours.
Polly Welts Kaufman is the co-author of Her Past around Us: Interpreting Sites for Women's History. She has also been involved in "A Women's History Walking Trail - Brunswick, Maine." Pejepscot Historical Society staff and community women coordinated the project, and Kaufman wrote the booklet about the trail. Founded in 1888, the Pejepscot Historical Society is among Maine's oldest historical organizations. The project was supported by a grant from Brunswick's Nathaniel Davis Fund. The resulting booklet, published in 1999, includes 31 sites and is sponsored by the Pejepscot Historical Society. In the future, project coordinators plan to develop a website.
In Augusta, Maine, an ambitious undergraduate student undertook the development of a walking tour for her senior capstone project. Phyllis vonHerrlich created a tour of 40 sites, conducting the research and finding or taking the photos herself for the Augusta Women’s History Trail. Through her academic program, the Maine Studies Program at the University of Maine, she received assistance in placing the trail map and descriptions on the Maine Studies website. Augusta, Maine, the state capitol, was the home of Martha Ballard, the well-known Maine midwife whose diary provides a window into 18th century life through the book A Midwife’s Tale, by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. In the future, vonHerrlich would like to update the trail and add 20 more sites, as time and funding allow.
Some other trails have been formed in cities around the country, but they may have gone out of print, and little information is available through the web. For example, in 2004, The League of Women Voters of Louisville, Kentucky created a map entitled "Where Louisville Women Made History - A Tribute to the Extraordinary Contributions of Louisville Women.” This map, with approximately 100 entries, was compiled by Genie Potter and published on August 26, 2004. Contributions from Publishers Press, Inc and the Community Foundation of Louisville provided for the printing, but the map has not been updated, and there is no website.
Another trail which has received little publicity is the Bozeman Women’s Heritage Trail in Bozeman, Montana. Encompassing an area of Bozeman, Montana on the South Side that lies between the city's Main Street business district and the Montana State University campus, the walking tour acquaints visitors with many buildings that were central to the lives of some of Bozeman's most notable women. Connie Staudohar, Project Director, published a book which described the trail in 1994.
In Washington, D.C., Woman Suffrage Walking Tours have been developed by both the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and the National Women's History Museum. These tours are publicized through the organizations’ websites at http://www.sewallbelmont.org/ and www.nwhm.org/home/footsteps.html.
In Minnesota, Gretchen Kreuter created Women’s History Tours of the Twin Cities (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 2008), a guide that allows visitors to explore the history of women in the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Published by Adventure Publications, it is distributed through Adventure Publications and Amazon.com. The book builds upon an earlier publication by Karen Mason and Carol Lacey.
In 1981, The Chicago Area Women’s History Conference (now the Chicago Area Women’s History Council) self-published Walking with Women through Chicago History: 4 Self-guided Tours, edited by Babette Inglehart, with Marilyn A. Domer, Jean S. Hunt, Mary Ann Johnson, and Adede M. Wheeler. The 74-page booklet is out of print, but the project led to publication, in 2001, of the award-winning Women Building Chicago, 1790-1990: A Biographical Dictionary (Bloomington: Indiana University Press), edited by Rima Lunin Schultz and Adele Hast.
Friends of the Alexandria Commission for Women, a 501(c)(3) organization, worked with the Commission to develop a walking tour of Alexandria, Virginia. A novel funding source was money available to encourage disease prevention; they argued, successfully, that walking promoted good health.