The Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries will open a new exhibit, “From Listeners to Leaders: A History of Women at Vanderbilt,” on Tuesday, Aug. 28, in the second-floor gallery of Central Library. The opening reception, scheduled for 12:15 p.m. on Aug. 28, will include an overview of the exhibit and its objects, including historical documents, books, photos and newspaper articles all related to the history of women at the university.
The program also marks the culmination of several months of work by four undergraduate students in the Buchanan Library Fellows Program, which is designed to create in-depth learning experiences for students interested in participating in strategic research projects for the Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries. As part of the program, the four students worked closely with professional librarians, a Vanderbilt faculty member and Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center staff to explore items related to women’s history in the library’s Special Collections and University Archives.
A highlight of the exhibit is the oral histories collected by students in a women’s and gender studies class called Contemporary Women’s Movement taught by Rory Dicker, director of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center. The oral histories were collected in the fall of 2017 and include detailed, firsthand accounts of women’s experiences at Vanderbilt, including stories from the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. The oral histories collected by the students will be given to the library’s Special Collections and University Archives, and portions of several interviews will be on display throughout the exhibit.
The exhibit’s name, “From Listeners to Leaders,” is in reference to Kate Lupton, who in 1879 became the first woman to graduate from Vanderbilt University. While Lupton’s classmates had elected her valedictorian, an honor she declined to accept, she was not allowed to take part in Commencement exercises due to her gender. Lupton was awarded her diploma in private, silently breaking the gender barrier and paving the way for the many women at Vanderbilt who would come after her.
“The exhibit in the library focuses on ways that women worked within and against the system to carve out a space for themselves to thrive on campus,” Dicker said. “Women weren’t really afforded the basic things we’d expect for college students—places to live provided by the university, opportunities for social activities, for example—so it’s enlightening to see the ways women made Vanderbilt their own in spite of these challenges.”
During the opening reception, the Buchanan Fellows will provide insight on the artifacts they selected, discuss the implications of their work for Vanderbilt today, and share stories of the trailblazers who challenged unfair restrictions, demanded change and created space for women to not only listen, but also to lead.
This exhibit is just one of the ways Vanderbilt is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Margaret Cuninggim Women’s Center. Also on Tuesday, Aug. 28, there will be a reception for women faculty to gather and celebrate this milestone, and on Thursday, Sept. 6, a 40th anniversary kickoff celebration is scheduled at the Women’s Center, where a new exhibit centered on examining the changes in women’s experiences at Vanderbilt since the center’s opening in 1978 will be presented.
“From Listeners to Leaders: A History of Women at Vanderbilt” will be on display in the second-floor gallery of Central Library through Nov. 25.