UT alumna speaks to Women’s History and Women’s Rights

LADOM_2013_02_08_Paula+Marks_Yamel

Yamel Thompson

UT alumna Paula Marks is the curator of the “Women Shaping Texas in the 20th Century” exhibit at the Bob Bullock Museum. The exhibit recognizes the accomplishments of influential women in the state of Texas.

Jourden Sander

Despite the third wave of feminism, the role of women in history continues to be overlooked. The “Women Shaping Texas in the 20th Century” exhibit at the Bullock Texas State History Museum tries to bring influential women in the state of Texas to the prominence they deserve. 

“I just want people to understand how much courage it took for women to create a space in the public sphere where they could begin to be participants in public life to the degree we have today,” Paula Marks, curator of the exhibit and UT alumna, said.

Despite the progress the U.S. has made, Marks realizes that women still struggle to move out of the shadows. 

“I think the lack of knowledge stems from history being defined as only politics, economics and battles, which have primarily been male enterprises,” Marks said. “The only reason I got into history was because social history was becoming popular, and that is about history from the ground up. So that encompassed more people.”

According to Nancy Baker Jones, a historical adviser and contributor to the exhibit, many people forget the importance of telling the less-discussed details of history that often get buried beneath the textbook stories.  

“Understanding history is one of the foundation stones of a good education for everyone,” Jones said. “Just as tomorrow grows out of today, so today grows out of yesterday.”

Jones thinks it will take a shift in the education system to create more appreciation for women’s roles in history. 

“Our society needs to value the study of history. If schools, colleges and universities don’t require it, then students most likely will not study it,” Jones said. “Not all history courses or texts include information about women. Anyone who has studied women’s history and values it will, I hope, urge others to do the same and tell them why.” 

Educators make the excuse that because women did not have equal footing in society, they could not make contributions that would include them in history curricula, Marks said. But the “Women Shaping Texas” exhibit is clear evidence against this.   

Rebecca Sharpless, a historical adviser and contributor to the exhibit, aids in the fight for women’s representation in history. 

“In K-12 history, women are woefully underrepresented. In the testing standards for seventh grade Texas history, for example, only four women are mentioned by name,” Sharpless said. “In fact, I just taught a workshop to seventh grade history teachers on how to incorporate women’s history into other areas of the TEKS. On the college level, women’s history has certainly made great strides in the past thirty years. But there is still far to go.” 

While the U.S. has progressed in the last hundred years, Jones wants women’s rights on a global scale to receive equal attention.  

“We can become educated and work in almost any field. That is absolutely not the case around the world,” Jones said. “For me, the measure of a country’s progress can be judged by the way it regards its female citizens; there are still too many places where women’s status is no higher than livestock or slave.”   

Marks agrees that there is more work to be done. She points to history to display the significance of women’s roles. 

“I think we have such an opportunity with the amazing young women out there,” Marks said. “A historical example is Bette Graham, who invented white out. It seems trivial, but for millions of women that was huge. She built a company from it and applied more egalitarian principles.”

From learning about women’s contributions in history and in society, Texas can continue to drive toward gender equality. This all starts with learning about history. 

“Women’s history, for anyone who has not studied it, will open your eyes to a wider world and give you a new perspective about human experience,” Jones said.  

“Women Shaping Texas in the 20th Century” will be open to the public through May 19.

Published on February 13, 2013 as "Historians honor Texas women".