- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

We’re used to hearing about our Founding Fathers and businessmen who helped make this country what it is today. The National Museum of Women in the Arts, with its “Enterprising Women: 250 years of American Business,” reminds us that women, too, were and are involved in that enterprise.

Mary Katherine Goddard (1738-1816), for example, was a newspaper publisher, the postmistress of Baltimore and, last but not least, printed the first copy of the Declaration of Independence with the typeset names of the signers.

Martha J. Coston (1826?-1902?), an inventor and entrepreneur, patented a pyrotechnic night signal, a type of maritime communication tool that helped give the Union’s naval power the edge over the South in the Civil War.

Both women are among 40 of America’s most successful businesswomen featured in the exhibit, which will run through Feb. 29. Besides short biographies of the women, the exhibit includes plenty of artifacts, such as a model printing press; old products for beauty and hair care, including a small gas lamp used to heat curling irons; model airplanes; old-timey brassieres; and even Barbie dolls.

“The main purpose of this exhibit, I think, is to write a new chapter in American history that integrates women into the mainstream history of our business and economy,” says Harriet McNamee, curator of education at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Many of the female entrepreneurs featured in the exhibit were involved in traditionally feminine businesses, such as developing products for skin and hair care, cosmetics, fashion.

Among them are Madam C.J. Walker (1867-1919), also known as an early civil rights activist; Elizabeth Arden (1878?-1966); and Ida Rosenthal, founder of Maidenform Brassiere Co.

Older teenagers and adults may enjoy the racy — at least for the 1950s and ‘60s, when they appeared — posters of bras. One, portraying a cowgirl with a drawn gun, dressed in a bra and little else, sports the text: “I dreamed I was WANTED in my Maidenform bra.”

Other female entrepreneurs in not-so-feminine business ventures were Wall Street financier Hetty Green (1834-1916), who was the richest woman in the world in the late 19th century, and aircraft manufacturer Olive Ann Beech, who took over as president of Beech Aircraft after her husband’s death in 1950. Mrs. Beech championed the company’s diversification into aerospace technology, and in 1980 she directed the merger with Raytheon.

The informational texts on each woman contain many inspirational messages and words of wisdom. Mrs. Beech, for example, is to have said, “Being a woman isn’t a handicap. … Ability is the measure of an executive — not gender.”

Among more recent names and inventions featured is the Barbie doll, introduced in 1959, and its creator, Ruth Handler (1916-2002). A case shows several varieties of Barbies, including Air Force Barbie; black Barbie, introduced in 1966; and WNBA Barbie, introduced in 1998.

The exhibit also showcases modern-day female entrepreneurs, including multimedia mogul Oprah Winfrey and EBay president Meg Whitman.

The exhibit is targeted toward middle and high school students, but Ms. McNamee says it can be rewarding for younger children, too.

“We hope they can tie these women into their history lessons, whether they’re studying the Colonial times or civil rights,” Ms. McNamee says. Madam C.J. Walker, for example, is a natural tie-in to civil rights, she says.

To make family visits more enjoyable for younger children, the museum gives out “Family Briefcases” geared toward children ages 6 to 12. They contain clipboards, pencils and work sheets with assignments.

One of these assignment sheets shows a Beech airplane missing certain parts. It asks the child to look at the Beech planes in an exhibit case to identify exactly what’s missing in the sketch.

Children can take the messenger-bag-like briefcases home with them.

Another activity available daily is the scavenger hunt, a work sheet with 11 questions on the “Enterprising Women” exhibit.

The museum also has a large collection of art by female painters from as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries, a temporary photo exhibit featuring Eudora Welty, and a temporary art exhibit titled “Insomnia: Landscapes of the Night,” which may be a little less accessible for young children.

The museum also offers family programs for children 6 to 12 on the first Sunday of most months. The Dec. 7 program is full. The next available program is set for 1 and 2 p.m. Feb. 1, featuring a historic interpreter who re-enacts the role of Madam C.J. Walker.

At 10 a.m. Jan. 24, the museum will offer a workshop for teenagers about setting and reaching personal goals. The speaker, who also is featured in the “Enterprising Women” exhibit, is Maria de Lourdes Sobrino, founder and chief executive of Lulu’s Desserts.

Whether child, teenager or adult, Ms. McNamee hopes visitors will take away with them the same message:

“Ultimately, what I am hoping is that they will see women as a vital part of all our history.”


Location: The National Museum of Women in the Arts is located at 1250 New York Ave. NW, Washington.

Directions: The museum is downtown, about four blocks east of the White House. It is easily accessible by the Metro Center stop on Metro’s Orange, Blue or Red lines. The museum is just north of the Metro entrance.

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday

Parking: Limited street parking is available.

Admission: General admission is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors age 60 and older, and free for NMWA members and children 18 and younger.

Note: The museum offers family programs, including performances and hands-on activities, the first Sunday afternoon of most months. Scavenger hunts and children’s activity packets are available daily.

More information: Call 202/783-5000 or visit www.nmwa.org.

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