World Wide Web Review

Museums Relating to Women

by Beverly Gordon

Museum-going constitutes not only a pastime, but a way of learning. As part of the feminist reclaiming of women's experience, many new museums are springing up in different parts of the country. Some are still in the planning stages, but even those are available in virtual form. Together, they provide an appealing, often useful resource.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

(Washington, D.C.)


Designed in collaboration with Productive Interactions Inc., Reston, Va.

Last Updated: On-going

Reviewed: June 25, 2000; revisited April 4, 2001

This is an attractive, extremely informative site that does a great job of virtually reproducing the museum-going experience. It includes a literal tour of the galleries (artworks are described in sequence); browsers can download the whole sequence of sound bites, words and images (the download can take up to forty-five minutes) or navigate independently through different rooms. There are also superb in-depth sections on twenty-two artists, with biographical, archival, and historiographic information. One can, for example, click on Frida Kahlo (under "Early 20th Century" in "Permanent Collection") and find her Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky (which is at the NMWA), as well as a short biography, commentary on her work, an overview of her era, and, most usefully, a detailed well-organized bibliography, including books, monographs, articles, video references, and a list of her works that are housed in other public collections. Additionally, one can discover that there is an archive file on Kahlo information in the NMWA's Library and Research Center (LRC).

The LRC has a subsection of the main site at (it is quite easy to maneuver among pages), with information about its research program, services, book and periodical holdings, museum publications, an inventory project, and archive guidelines. A catalog search for "Kahlo" brings up seventy-seven book entries.

Teachers can visit the NMWA's Education Department ( to preview extensive educational packets for varying grade levels and order them online, as well as to find out about workshops, read the current NMWA Teacher Newsletter, and locate other resources for educators.

The virtual museum has other features that mimic services found in actual museums, including locator maps; a gift shop; exhibitions of elementary- and high-school student work (found by going to the "Bridging Communities" subsite); a good public (media) relations department (including informative press releases about past and present exhibitions); calendars of events, exhibitions, public programs, and a literary series; links to other D.C. cultural institutions (although this is only linked to the bottom of the "Visiting the Museum" page); accessibility information (also under "Visiting the Museum"); and curatorial review guidelines (under "Frequently Asked Questions").

National Women's History Museum

(Washington, D.C.) OR

Presented by Bell Atlantic

Last Updated: Not clear

Reviewed: June 25, 2000; revisited April 4, 2001

This is only a virtual museum as yet, designed by "scholars and museum professionals." According to its mission statement, the museum is "dedicated to preserving, displaying, interpreting, and celebrating the historic contributions and rich, diverse experiences of women, and restoring this heritage to the cultural mainstream." Less visually appealing than the NMWA site, this one is still well-organized and fairly easy to follow. It does not, however, appear to have been very active recently. That, along with some non-functioning features and the fact that none of the calendar items are dated later Fall 2000, makes one wonder whether the museum has fallen on hard times and is unable to actively maintain the site. There is a press release, however, indicating that a national, direct-mail fundraising campaign will be launched in June 2001.

At present, there is one featured exhibit, "Motherhood, Social Service, and Political Reform: Political Culture and Imagery of American Woman Suffrage." This has two parts: an "in-depth illustrated journey" through suffrage history, which highlights historical figures, campaign strategies and events; and a 50-image "gallery"of material items such as buttons, banners and broadsides that were used to sell the idea of women's right to vote to a wide audience. The latter section makes good use of material culture to tell a historical story, and it would be suitable for high-school-age students. The "Featured Exhibit" sub-site includes an on-line quiz that gives immediate score and correct-answer feedback, links to additional resources (although the links do not all work smoothly), a time line (unfortunately, this link does not seem to work), and a help desk. An online museum store is partly constructed.

Women of the West Museum, (Denver, Colorado)


Maintained by: No information given

Last Updated: On-going

Reviewed: June 25, 2000; revisited April 9, 2001

This virtual museum exists "to discover, explore, and communicate the continuing roles of women in shaping the American West"--the "real characters," including "range wives, ranch hands, and rabble-rousers," as well as "pilots, painters, priests and politicians," among others. According to the summary of the museum's history, there are plans for "a major facility with a focus on exhibitions, education, and research." The virtual museum carries out the mission in inspiring and amusing ways, with, for instance a virtual "story quilt" and elaborate gallery exhibitions, currently including "This Shall Be the Land for Women: The Struggle for Western Women's Suffrage, 1860-1920," "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes: A Denver Neighborhood Women's History Trail," "The LoDo Mural Project; Stories and Images of Eleven Colorado Women Who Helped To Shape the American West," and "'There Are No Renters Here': Women's Lives on the Sod House Frontier." Some of the exhibitions include extensive lists of resources and related activities; others link to the museum's "Educational Resource Center" (ERC), where educators can find recommended readings, lesson plans (most are from the Social Science Education Consortium and are part of a larger curriculum on the American West), relevant articles and excerpts from recent publications, and links to other relevant sites. The exhibitions are inclusive, focusing on different classes, races, and ethnicities.

Perhaps the great strength of this site lies in its superb women's history links (under "Links to Other Sites" on the ERC page): one is taken to a wealth of women's diaries and letters, literary and art works, essays, historical studies, biographies, etc. (Unusual links include the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Butte, Montana, Historic Brothel Project.)

The Women's Museum: An Institute for the Future (Dallas, Texas)


Site by

Last Updated: On-going

Reviewed: June 25, 2000; revisited April 9, 2001

The physical facility for this museum, which was formed in association with the Smithsonian Institution, opened in Fall 2000. The website provides a tangible sense of the futuristic experience visitors can have there--for example, a thirty-foot "electronic quilt" in the main entrance (each square represents one of the museum's featured stories), and kiosks where visitors may choose among seven "mentors" (wireless phones) who will guide their visits. Much of the museum is devoted to the Ronya Kozmetsky Institute for the Future, which features hands-on, educational programming "designed to provide girls and women with the resources and technological competencies necessary to succeed in the 21st century workforce and to be responsible citizens in the information age."

The museum's mission is to "educate, enrich and inspire all visitors by celebrating women's history and providing a public forum for the communication of women's contributions to society." Virtual tours of some exhibits are available to online visitors, and visitors to the physical museum as well as those visiting online can use the interactive "Cyberspace Connection," where they can get more information, leave comments, and be part of online discussions, as well as submit their own stories and read those of others.

International Museum of Women (San Francisco)


Last Updated: On-going

Reviewed: June 25, 2000; revisited April 9, 2001

Due to open on the San Francisco waterfront in 2005, this museum will "celebrate...women's roles in shaping our world through centuries" and function as a catalyst for social change. It has one on-line exhibition so far: "Progress of the World's Women: An International Exhibition on Women Artists," which was organized in partnership with the United Nations Development Fund for Women and debuted as a physical exhibit in June 2000 in the U.N. Visitors' Lobby. One can also find a description of and selected entries from the Women's History Expression Project, which during March 2001 (Women's History Month) invited Bay Area children to write about their views of women's history and what they would like to see in the international museum. The site also gives extensive information about the planned physical facility and its exhibits, and invites memberships and donations.

Other museum sites of interest:

National Women's Hall of Fame:

National Women's History Project's overview of women's history organizations and museums:

Directory of women's museums:

Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health:

[Beverly Gordon is Professor in the Department of Environment, Textiles, and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She specializes in the study of material culture, and is affiliated with the Folklore and Women's Studies programs.]



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Mounted July 19, 2001.