I grew up in a very female-centric world – one mom, seven sisters and the ubiquitous nuns all through my Catholic school days. Sure, I had a dad and two brothers, but we definitely skewed "girl." But nature has a way of evening things out, so I wasn’t really surprised to be blessed with two sons. A little intimidated, but not surprised.
It turns out boys are pretty great - if for no other reason than they give me an opportunity to channel my inner guy. You see, I love trains, baseball and visiting historic sites (including battlefields). And since we live in the Washington, D.C. area, there are plenty of those to go around. There’s the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, Mount Vernon in Northern Virginia, Fort Stevens in northwest D.C., and one of the National Trust’s newest sites, President’s Lincoln Cottage, in northeast D.C.
But I recently got to thinking, "What if I’d had two girls?" Would it be as easy to find historic sites that daughters could identify with? Sites that told the story of the girls and the women who helped forge our nation? Well, it turns out that it’s not easy. In fact, it’s downright hard. A perusal of dc.about.com lists just four "women’s" historic sites, and one of those is an art museum.
So then I think, "Maybe it’s just D.C." But sadly, it seems to be a more widespread phenomenon. When I asked our National Trust Historic Sites staff for information about women’s history at our own sites, more often than not the I answer I received was "Well, the house was donated to the Trust by a woman."
The fact is, we (and I include the National Trust in this indictment) do a pretty bad job of telling the story of women’s history – and of the role of women in historic preservation. Kind of ironic as it’s often women who are at the forefront of preservation battles. Hell, the movement was "birthed" by a woman – Anne Pamela Cunningham, who in 1853 thought maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to let them tear down Mount Vernon. She galvanized a national fundraising effort to buy, restore and operate the home of the "father" of our country, and today, Mount Vernon is still faithfully stewarded by the Ladies’ Association of Mount Vernon.
So, let’s change this sorry state of affairs, shall we? Starting right now on just the second day of Women's History Month, let’s take some time to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women – undaunted and unsung, famous and infamous, daring, and yes, domestic.
We’ll start with a few stories on our own Women's History Month website on PreservationNation.org, but we really want to hear from you. Post a picture to our This Place Matters photo-sharing campaign or share a story of a women who made a difference in history (yours or our nation’s) by posting a comment below.
Let’s do it for our daughters – and our sons.
Dolores McDonagh is the vice president for membership development at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Learn more about how the National Trust is celebrating the accomplishments of women in preservation by visiting our new Women's History Month website.