Exhibit on Women’s history at NC State now open at the Libraries

A collage of images of pioneering women at NC State, featured in the Dare and Do! exhibit

A collage of images of pioneering women at NC State, featured in the Dare and Do! exhibit

In 1921—34 years after NC State was founded—Lucille Thompson became the first full-time female student at the university. But women have been an integral part of NC State from day one. From staff positions in the school’s early years to leadership roles today, women have made the university what it is today by overcoming societal norms and breaking through male-dominated boundaries.

Opening the first full week of December, the Hill Library’s Exhibit Gallery, Dare and Do! Women’s History at NC State explores and celebrates the rich history of Wolfpack women. Taking last year’s 100th anniversary of Thompson’s enrollment and the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Women’s Center on campus as moments in time to reflect upon, the exhibit gathers stories, profiles, and resonant objects and documents from the Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center (SCRC) University Archives. From handwritten notes from early staff members to scrapbooks from clubs and campus organizations to coverage in campus publications like the Technician, women’s narratives emerge and expand.

The exhibit opens with a Campus History Series event online on Wednesday, Dec. 7 from 12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m. Co-organizers Kelly Arnold, a Master’s student in Public History, and Henry Stover, a senior Art and Design major, join Virginia Ferris, Lead Librarian for Outreach and Engagement at the SCRC, to discuss visionary women and the communities they have created throughout the university’s history, as well as why many of their achievements are not always reflected in the University Archives. The event is free and open to the public; pre-register on the Libraries site.

“One of my biggest takeaways from this exhibit is the community that has been created by women at NC State and the ways that early women students, faculty, and staff paved the way for me to feel comfortable as a woman on this campus,” Arnold says. “While there are certainly steps that we can take forward in terms of equity on campus, we’ve also come a long way from the ‘panty raids’ exalted in the 1960s Technician article featured in the exhibit. This exhibit allowed me to connect into this community both in the past and present.”

“Seeing old photographs of campus reminds me that these women were here, just trying to pass their classes like the rest of us,” Stover says. “It's really inspiring to realize what these women were able to accomplish despite the barriers they've faced, and it makes me very hopeful for the future of Wolfpack women as we continue to strive for equity and provide students with more opportunities.”

The exhibit is organized thematically with an emphasis on the historical arc of women’s accomplishments in each area. Stover particularly likes an exhibit case that focuses on student activism on campus. “Most women are recognized for their work after college, which is awesome to aspire to, but this case really shows the power that we as students have to affect our community before graduation,” Stover says.

Dare and Do! also confronts and acknowledges silences in the archives. “This was something that I really advocated for from the start of this exhibit,” Arnold says. “I think it’s important to recognize that there is a politics around what we know about women’s lives in the past and how that influences whose stories we can and do put in the spotlight.”

“Focusing on the silences in the archives reminded me that recording the mundane can be revolutionary,” Stover says. “Seeing photos of students from decades ago doing everyday things like making a phone call, studying, kissing, or walking on campus made me feel so human and connected to these women. For Black, queer, and other women from marginalized communities that were often left out of history, these images of everyday activities were sometimes a better record of the diversity on campus, because marginalized excellence wasn't being recognized and recorded very well.”

“It's disheartening to know that we’ve lost the stories of some women, especially women who possessed intersectional marginal identities,” Arnold adds, “but at the same time it offers us the opportunity to try to preserve people’s stories more equitably in the present.”

The SCRC’s Wolf Tales story collection project, an example of current preservation efforts at the Libraries, features in the exhibit.