Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Terre Haute's Walk of Fame--Where Are the Women?

Featured letter: Where are the women in city’s Walk of Fame?
Terre Haute Tribune Star
Posted: Friday, November 21, 2014 11:00 am

For nearly 20 years, I had the privilege of working at the Vigo County Public Library. Most of that time was spent as archivist and manager of the Special Collections Department where I got to know our community’s rich and varied history well. The original manuscripts in Archives of local individuals and organizations, the amazing collection of newspapers on microfilm, the county history books and records all brought to life for me the people from our past who made our present possible.

The Terre Haute Walk of Fame seems a wonderful way to recognize some of our citizens from the past, a quite visible and public point of honor which should tell us and tourists visiting our city something about who we are as a community. But as each selection year rolls by, I find myself more and more disappointed — it has become an erratic list of individuals with varied connections to Terre Haute and is overwhelmingly male. The latest group chosen in November 2014 is comprised of seven men. Here we go again, I sigh. Where are the women of Terre Haute?

There are many amazing women who have made their impact in Terre Haute and beyond and have yet to be recognized on the Walk of Fame. Last year a suggestion was made to the committee (disclaimer — by my husband who taught Women’s History at Indiana State University for 30 years) to include more women, but it seems by this last group selected the suggestion has fallen on deaf ears.

It is surprising to me that when you go outside of Terre Haute many of the deserving women are recognized nationally. Ida Husted Harper, who began her career as a journalist here (writing for Terre Haute’s Saturday Evening Mail for nearly 20 years), was also a major player in the women’s suffrage movement on a national scale, her writings and contributions recognized at the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institute of American History. On a recent visit to the world renowned Brook Green Gardens (a massive sculpture garden in South Carolina selecting the best of American art from the 19th-20th century), I found they had four sculptures by our own Terre Haute native, Janet Scudder (born in 1869). And as a final example, author Katharine Capshaw Smith in her book, "Children’s Literature of the Harlem Renaissance", has recognized one of our local teachers Jane Dabney Shackelford as a nationally significant contributor to the history of education and children’s literature. I doubt many Terre Hauteans know of her, but Shackelford was a pioneer in education, creating textbooks with positive African-American role models for students in the mid-20th century.

The list does go on. What of Congresswoman Virginia Jenckes? Educator, writer and suffragist Bertha Pratt King? And yes, what of Fannie Blumberg (wife of the recently chosen Benjamin Blumberg) who made her own social and civic contributions apart from her husband?

I have a masters degree in history which has served me well and has certainly taught me to look beyond the simplicity of the Great Man Theory in history. In the past, those who held political and economic power (namely white men) controlled the narrative story of our history and most often did not look beyond themselves.

We now recognize (or should) that history is much more complex, that women, minorities and the working class have contributed and influenced social, cultural, and yes, political and economic movements throughout our nation’s history. The creation of Women’s History Month in March and African-American History Month in February exist to correct that imbalance.

But the balance will always be skewed if women, minorities and the working class are not integrated in mainstream thought about what history really is. In theory, Terre Haute’s Walk of Fame is a great idea, but in practice the Good Old Boys still reign. Are we still so provincial and narrow in our views? Is this who we really are? Where are the women of Terre Haute?

— Susan Dehler, Terre Haute

Tribune Star