Note: Click on the thumbnails below
for more information.
Seneca beaded skirt
Women's Christian Temperance Union quilt
Women of the Ku Klux Klan
Anna Cuyler Van Schaick
Manhattan Skyline-South Street, 1936
Ceramics excavated from Betsey Prince site - 1993
Painting by Mary Banning - 1878
Page from Goldring's Devonian Crinoids of New York - 1927
Ceramic pot by Tammy Tarbell-Boehning
In the Collections of the New York State Museum
First ladies and farm women. Helen Hayes on Broadway and a hippie at Woodstock.
One can "meet" these women while exploring the collection of historic artifacts at the New York
State Museum. Women from various backgrounds and time periods now permanently reside in
the controlled environment of museum storage or exhibition--from Shaker eldresses and Native American clan
mothers to little girls with hula hoops. Down other aisles lie darker stories: the stories of
enslaved women, female inmates in mental institutions, and the women's auxiliary of the Ku
The New York State Museum's collections include a vast array of objects that illuminate
the lives of women in New York. Tools and products used by women; clothing worn by women
and girls; art and crafts created by women; and depictions of females from figural images of
idealized "Woman" to thousands of photographs of real women and girls at home, at school, at
work, and at play. The museum has one of the premier collections representing domestic life,
the sphere in which women supposedly reigned or were chained, depending on one's point of
view. In addition to artifacts associated with the home, the museum has significant holdings
related to women's role in social organizations and the work force.
It would be hard to put a number on how many "women's history" artifacts exist in the
New York State Museum's historical and anthropological collections, which total over 1,200,000
objects. As women's history scholarship has broadened over the past 30 years beyond spinning
wheels and suffrage, new questions are asked of old things.
A "gendered" interpretation of an object requires asking how or if men and women had a
different experience with an object as a result of prevailing sex roles. Seemingly gender-neutral
artifacts--such as automobiles or typewriters--can have "gendered" interpretations: when did
women go from the disparaging "woman driver" to being the "family chauffeur"? Which sex was
the first to use typewriters? (The answer to the latter is men, in the 1880s.) Even artifacts that
seem to have no female association--such as a photograph of an all-male graduating class--is a
women's history artifact because it is evidence of women's exclusion from a male domain.
The Women's History web page is truly an interdisciplinary, museum-wide effort. Anthropology presents a beaded skirt from the mid-nineteenth century made by a Seneca woman, Caroline Parker. Geology is represented by the work of Dr. Winifred Goldring, the first woman State Paleontologist (appointed 1939). And Biology showcases Mary Banning's natural history illustrations of mushrooms from the 1870's. Contemporary fine arts are represented by Mohawk ceramicist, Tammy Tarbell-Boehning, whose sculpture can be seen in the Governor's Collection of Contemporary Native American Crafts.
Given such a broad definition of women's history, this web site devoted to women's
history in the collections of the New York State Museum will be a work in progress. Periodically new artifacts will be added that will expand our picture of the complex history of women
in New York. Check back often and see what's new.
Click on any of the thumbnail images to the left to read more about each of these objects.
For general questions relating to women's history and New York State, contact
Christine Kleinegger, Senior Historian at email@example.com