Exhibition | Saving Washington
New-York Historical Society, 8 March — 30 July 2017
Curated by Valerie Paley
Opening on International Women’s Day, March 8, and remaining on view through July 30, 2017, in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Saving Washington will explore the tenuousness of American democracy from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War through the War of 1812 and beyond, addressing women’s roles as citizens of a new republic by focusing on the political and social significance of First Lady Dolley Madison and other women of the era. Curated by Valerie Paley, New-York Historical vice president, chief historian, and director of the Center for Women’s History, the exhibition will illustrate the mission of the Center for Women’s History: to reveal the often-overlooked stories of women who shaped American history.
Saving Washington recasts the traditional Founding Fathers narrative to focus on the less-examined contributions of women whose behind-the-scenes and largely unrecognized efforts helped develop the young nation and realize the Constitution ‘on the ground’. Among those who expertly navigated the political world of the early republic, Dolley Madison (1768–1849) was more than an example of what a woman could be in America; she was the embodiment of American strength, virtue, and honor. As the wife of the fourth U.S. president, she is sometimes remembered merely as the hostess who saved the White House portrait of George Washington from British vandalism during the War of 1812. But in fact, she was one of the most influential women in America during the nation’s formative years and a powerful force during a time when women were excluded from affairs of state.
Saving Washington will feature more than 150 objects—including artwork, books, documents, clothing, jewelry, and housewares—within immersive, interactive installations evoking Dolley Madison’s famous ‘Wednesday night squeezes’, her popular social gatherings that drew a wide range of people to ‘squeeze’ into the president’s mansion and encouraged informal diplomacy.
Saving Washington will inaugurate the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery within the Center for Women’s History on New-York Historical’s renovated fourth floor. Other programming highlights for Women’s History Month will include a conference on the history of reproductive rights; an evening with tennis icon and social justice pioneer Billie Jean King, who will unveil select items from her personal archives, recently donated to New-York Historical; a reading series with Girls Write Now featuring young women sharing their creative works; and a panel discussion about “Women and the White House,” moderated by 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl.
Lead support for Saving Washington has been provided by Joyce B. Cowin and the Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, with additional support provided by Susan Klein. Educational programming was made possible by Deutsche Bank.