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A Woman’s Place: Women and Work

By January 6, 2020September 16th, 2023No Comments

Banner for "Women and Work" exhibit, with woman in an apron holding canned foodsExhibit now open

A new exhibit has opened in the first floor gallery of Elmer L. Andersen Library. A Woman’s Place: Women and Work attempts to unpack the stories of what “women’s work” truly embodies by pulling materials from units across the University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections, as well as from the Wangensteen Historical Library and the Doris S. Kirschner Cookbook collection.

The stories of women as workers are as complex, varied, and engaging as the women themselves. Whether their work is paid or unpaid, by choice or by necessity, a path to freedom or a system of exploitation, the idea of “women in the workplace” has embodied many of society’s greatest hopes and fears about what it means to be a woman.

The exhibit was a collaborative effort from three curators:

  • Linnea Anderson, Archivist, Social Welfare History Archives
  • Kate Dietrick, Archivist, Upper Midwest Jewish Archives
  • Caitlin Marineau, Assistant Curator, Children’s Literature Research Collections.

By pulling materials across the Libraries, the aim was to celebrate the diversity of voices that make up women’s contributions and conflicts with work.

Snapshot of exhibit gallery with banners and exhibit cases

Exhibit gallery

What is a woman’s place?

The idea of the “working woman” for some may conjure up images of 1980s power suits and shoulder pads. The stereotype of women suddenly entering the workforce in the wake of second-wave feminism is one that has remained with us for several decades.

But is this idea accurate?

The truth is, women have always worked. Whether in agriculture, factories, offices, or cottage industries, there has never been a time in history when women did not work. Even within the home, domestic tasks such as cooking, sewing, cleaning, and child-rearing are essential but often overlooked labors that women have traditionally shouldered.

Questions about what work women should be doing have long been debated in our society. Concerns about women’s morality, ability, and proper place still bubble up in cultural conversations to this day.

Even beyond gender, race and class also impact women’s opportunities and inform public perceptions of working women. Women of color have long held the burden of both racial and gender discrimination — and often been historically shunted into the jobs that were considered too difficult or distasteful for white women.

But this exhibit is not merely about the struggles women have faced in society. It is also a celebration of the women themselves. The women who labored, created, endeavored, protested, or even just survived. The women who kept their families fed and clothed; who took jobs in factories, schools, offices, farms, and homes; who volunteered and supported one another; and who — in the face of racial, class, and gender oppression — kept moving forward.

Where is a woman’s place? It’s everywhere.

Exhibit vitrine with a YMCA women's uniform on a bust and war posters in the background

Women’s YMCA World War I uniform

Join us in celebrating

An exhibit reception will take place Thursday, January 16 at 4:00 p.m. The program begins at 4:30 p.m., during which the curators and exhibit designer will discuss the idea behind the exhibit and how the search took place to find materials. For more information, visit the events page.

Exhibit details

A Woman’s Place: Women and Work is open now through March 6. The gallery is open during regular building hours at Elmer L. Andersen Library.


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