Mary Lou Williams, ca. 1946, by William P. Gottlieb
From a 17th-century workshop in the Netherlands to a classroom in 1660 in Frankfurt, to the streets of Washington in the early 1900s to musical stages today, women have been making strides in their fields that have often been overlooked, uncredited, or forgotten by time. Celebrate Women’s History Month by spending a fascinating day with four experts who bring to light an array of remarkable women who have lived in the shadows of history far too long.
10–11 a.m. Judith Leyster: A Star in Her Time
Judith Leyster (1609–1660) was indeed a star: Her family name means “lodestar” or “guide star.” She was also heralded during the height of Dutch painting as “the true leading star in art,” and regarded highly by her contemporaries. Leyster was arguably the first women to be admitted as a master to the Haarlem painter’s guild of St. Luke. As such, she was able to run her own workshop, take on paying pupils, and compete with well-known rivals, such as the esteemed Frans Hals. Her works, identified with her initials and a monogram of a star, sold broadly on the open market. Barrett Tilney, an adjunct professor in the art and art history department at Georgetown University, traces Leyster’s journey to gain remarkable professional success as a woman in a competitive, male-dominated art market.
11:15 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Maria Sibylla Merian: A Biologist to the Bone
The aesthetic appeal of the images of German-born Maria Sibylla Merian (1647–1717) has led history to label her as an artist who painted and etched natural-history subjects. However, she was as passionate a naturalist (biologist, in modern terms) as Charles Darwin or Carl Linnaeus, and like all scientists, was impelled by her curiosity about nature. She was the first person to spend decades studying the relationships of insects and plants, and her work revolutionized what came to be the field of ecology. Using evidence from Merian’s own words and images, Kay Etheridge, a professor of biology at Gettysburg College, considers Merian’s motivations in the context of her time and place, and discuss her body of work in comparison to that of her near-contemporaries in the field natural history.
12:15–1:15 p.m. Break
1:15–2:15 p.m. Pioneers in Progressive Politics
In the early 20th century, the United States was awash in social movements that aimed to diminish inequalities of wealth and power. Women—black and white, working- and middle-class—led many of those initiatives. Historian Robyn Muncy spotlights some of the women of the period who laid the foundation for the American social welfare system, challenged injustices based on race and class, and in the process changed the meaning of American womanhood itself.
2:30–3:30 p.m. Women in Blues and Jazz: From Footnotes to High Notes
From the turn of the 20th century to the present, women in blues and jazz have made significant contributions to these uniquely American musical forms. When women musicians take the stage or enter the recording studio, it’s often because they’ve overcome many obstacles to be regarded as serious artists in these male-dominated genres. Long relegated to footnotes of musical history, the talents and achievements of generations of blues and jazz women are crucial to understanding the entire tapestry of American music. Join Michele L. Simms-Burton, DownBeat magazine reviewer and former professor of African American studies at Howard University, to examine how blues and jazz artists including Big Mama Thornton, Barbara Lynn, Big Maybelle, Algia Mae Hinton, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Norma Jean Wofford, Mary Lou Williams, Terri Lyne Carrington, and Alice Coltrane carved their own paths to success and recognition.
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