The Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University is hosting an exhibit on The Women of The Blackwell Family. The displays focus on seven women in the family, including Elizabeth Blackwell, who became the first female doctor in the United States. You can view the collection on the first floor of the Schlesinger Library from now until October 21, 2016.
Visiting Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library
I entered the library on a sunny Saturday morning and asked the security guard where I might find the exhibit. She happily pointed to my right. I assumed the exhibit would be deeper into the building so I tried to go around a little bend in the hallway, only to find myself among rows of electrical boxes. The security guard and I had a good laugh about that when I popped back into the exhibit. For your own visit, know that the displays are very easy to get to and located directly to your right just as soon as you walk in the door.
With a title like “The Women of The Blackwell Family: Resilience and Change,” I expected to be presented with stories from generations of indomitable women, especially given the robust history of the Radcliffe Institute. I did not expect, however, that several of these women would hail from Ohio, my own home state. A little flicker of connectivity lit up inside me when I read those words at the first display. This thread of sameness reached out to me through history and brought the lives of these women into even crisper focus. They were just like me, I thought, as I studied a handwritten note on aged yellow paper. Elizabeth Blackwell and I even share the same first name.
The Women of the Blackwell Family
The glass cases not only offer a glimpse into these women’s professional lives with books and documents, but also their personal lives, with locks of hair curled delicately on cards and motivational notes from one to another, urging fortitude in the face of hardships and closed doors. Don’t give up, the notes said. Even over a hundred years later, the messages from these women still ring true.
As you circle the room, the displays move chronologically throughout time, each focusing on one woman. You can read snippets from their writing in their own hand, ogle ‘Votes for Women’ pins that closely resemble modern day political paraphernalia, and even read a centuries old note explaining why a woman should never take her husband’s last name. These women were so far ahead of their time as to make me momentarily think I was reading about modern day activists. Only the neat calligraphy and locks of hair kept me grounded in previous centuries.
Although the displays pull poignant lines from the handwritten notes onto typed placards in order to make them easier to read, you should still take the time to read the full letters. Ciphering through their script allows you even deeper into their world and also paints a fuller picture of these women as actual people who lived, struggled, and thrived over one hundred years ago.
During my visit, two well-dressed men stood beside the interactive TV in the back of the exhibit and worked patiently together until they figured out how to move from one screen to the next. I think it would please the Blackwell women to know that over a century later, their lives would inspire two business men to take time from their day to learn about influential turn-of-the-century women, while a young female writer, just starting out, looks on and internalizes their message of endurance. I hope you go to this exhibit. And I hope you let yourself learn from these women who forged on when the whole world was telling them they couldn’t do it.
How to see the Blackwell Women at the Radcliffe
10 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
The Radcliffe Institute‘s Schlesinger Library is found on Harvard University‘s campus and can be accessed using public transportation. Harvard can be found on the Red Line of the MBTA, at the Harvard Square stop. You can also take the 66 bus towards Harvard Square.
[pw_map address=”10 Garden Street Cambridge, MA 02138″]
– Elizabeth Coyle, Content Writer