After five years of planning and three years of construction, the New-York Historical Society has unveiled the brand new Henry Luce III Center on the museum’s fourth floor. Among other things, the floor is home to the Center for Women’s History—a space focusing on the contributions that women have made in New York and nationally.
Shockingly enough, it’s the first of its kind in America; no other museum in the nation has a dedicated space for exhibitions on women’s role in our country’s past.
The NYHS curators were inspired to create the center after the overwhelming response to the 2007 exhibition “A New Light on Tiffany: Clara Driscoll and the Tiffany Girls,” which focused on the little-known role of female designers in creating Tiffany Studios’ iconic lamps. “It struck a chord,” explains Margaret K. Hofer, the vice president and museum director of the NYHS. “And we realized that there were so many stories to tell related to women’s history, that we wanted to really foreground that.”
Curated by NYHS vice president and chief historian Valerie Paley, the Center for Women’s History features a 1,500-square-foot gallery for changing exhibitions, a permanent interactive exhibit called “Women’s Voices,” and a few smaller spaces to accommodate smaller installations.
The first exhibit in the main gallery, “Saving Washington,” trains a lens on Dolley Madison, who as the fourth first lady was instrumental in guiding the culture and politics of early America. According to Hofer, the gallery will host three exhibits each year.
The newly renovated fourth floor will also feature the Gallery of Tiffany Lamps, a two-story space filled with 100 Tiffany lamps, and extra display space for the NYHS’s permanent collection.
Hofer, who oversaw the curatorial content of the renovation, hopes that the Center for Women’s History will help people to think of women’s contributions to American history as central to our national story rather than as a side note, as they unfortunately have so often been treated.
“One of our primary goals is for people to see women’s history as American history and not as some lesser offshoot, but really central to understanding our past and the growth of our nation.” she says. “And we also hope it will inspire young people and people of all ages to really realize their potential and to do great things.”