Looking Back to International Women’s Day
What do yellow mimosas, violets, and lily-of-the-valley have in common (aside from their perfumery nature)? Each is a symbol of International Women’s Day! Dozens of countries celebrate this holiday on March 8 every year and though it isn’t recognized as any sort of official holiday in the US, it’s the perfect excuse to highlight some of our collections’ notable figures in our March post. If you read along you might also learn something new about the history of the holiday, its controversies, and its setbacks.
The holiday finds its roots at the intersection between the global feminist and socialist movements of the early 20th century. In actuality, the first Woman’s day took place on February 23, 1909 and was organized by the Socialist party of America. In the following years, various other conferences and celebrations took place around the world on different dates, until February 23rd of the Julian calendar (March 8th of the Gregorian). On that day, women began demonstrating across Russia in front of factories and breadlines. The violent response from Czar Nicholas II on the 25th kicked off the February Revolution. After the czar’s abdication, the provisional government granted women the right to vote, the first major power to do so. A lot of this is paraphrased from this wonderful article by Temma Kaplan which I recommend reading.
Across the world, the holiday in the present appears to retain very slim connections to its roots. In Russia the holiday is celebrated through men giving gifts to the women in their lives and lacks any political context. At MWDL the holiday is celebrated through an end-of-March blogpost pointing out cool, relevant, collections and offering a little historical insight.
In the 1920’s Nell Shipman helped pioneer the film industry, creating some of the first outdoor adventure films while making a statement. She owned her own production company by the age of 28 and had already achieved major success as an actress in the silent films, “God’s Country and the Woman” and “Back to God’s Country”. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, she even co-wrote and co-produced “Back to God’s Country”. On top of being a successful entrepreneur and something of a feminist icon, Nell Shipman was also very outspoken in favor of animal rights.
The Nell Shipman photographs collection comes to us from Boise State in Idaho which served as the setting for many of Shipman’s films. The photographs in the Nell Shipman digital collection were, with a few exceptions, donated to Boise State University by Shipman’s eldest son, Barry, in 1988. They date mainly from the latter years of her filmmaking career (1920-1924), but there is a sprinkling of earlier and later images. Particularly well represented by stills are her films The Girl From God’s Country (1921) and The Grub-Stake (1923). So too are her years at Priest Lake, Idaho, where she made several short films known collectively as The Little Dramas of the Big Places. No known copy of The Girl From God’s Country is known to survive, so the stills are all that remain to document that film.
Olga Reifschneider was a botanist and naturalist who contributed greatly to the documentation of native Nevadan flora. Alongside writing about desert biology she wrote about Nevada history, petroglyphs, and published a book biographing prominent botanists in Nevada.
This collection contains 275 images of plants and trees taken in northern Nevada and the Lake Tahoe region by botanist and nature writer Olga Reifschneider from the 1940s-70s, it presents an expansive view of the botanical life of this region and is exclusively devoted to native plants
Gertrude Bass Warner (1863-1951) was a wealthy American woman who fell in love with Asia. She first traveled there in 1904, married an American engineer in Shanghai, and spent the rest of her life collecting, studying, and promoting Asian art and culture. She was instrumental in building Asian programs at the University of Oregon, in addition to founding the art museum to house the Murray Warner Collection of Asian Art. Mrs. Warner traveled extensively to build her collection, to study, to learn about museum construction and management, and to promote multiculturalism and appreciation for Asian culture. The Gertrude Bass Warner papers, 1909-1923, collection consists primarily of travel diaries, notes, correspondence and ephemera related to research about shrines and religious ceremonies for several manuscripts that Gertrude Bass Warner (1863-1951) was working on. There is also correspondence about pieces of art that she and her husband were collecting to bring back to the United States for a museum exhibit. The bulk of the materials are about Japan during the time period of 1909-1923. Ms. Warner was the founder and director emeritus of the University of Oregon Fine Art Museum.
Ruth Mountaingrove (1923- ) is a photographer, writer, and artist who moved to Oregon in 1971, settling in communes and eventually co-founding Rootworks, a lesbian land in Southern Oregon. Rootworks was home to the Ovular workshops, which Ruth and Tee Corinne, another prominent lesbian photographer, and others, led. The workshops, which ran for six years, were an opportunity for women to learn photography in the context of the Women’s Movement, providing a means for the women to examine the differences between the way men pictured women and the way the women saw themselves. The feminist photography magazine, The Blatant Image, sprang from the Ovular workshops. The Ruth Mountaingrove collection consists of correspondence, diaries, ephemera, and photographs.
Trained as a pictorialist by Clarence White, Doris Ulmann’s early work includes a series of photographic portraits of prominent intellectuals, artists and writers: William Butler Yeats, John Dewey, Max Eastman, Sinclair Lewis, Lewis Mumford, Joseph Wood Krutch, Martha Graham, Anna Pavlova, Paul Robeson, and Lillian Gish. In 1932 Ulmann began her most important series, assembling documentation of Appalachian folk arts and crafts for Allen Eaton’s 1937 book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. From 1927, Ulmann was assisted on her rural travels by John Jacob Niles, a musician and folklorist who collected ballads while Ulmann photographed. Doris Ulmann died on August 28, 1934.
Many, many more collections…
This list is by no means exhaustive so you are encouraged to go out and find more!