Our Past

By Georgie Bright Kunkel

Every culture preserves its past, either by passing down oral history or more formally by housing collections of artifacts that are preserved from generation to generation. With our population aging, there is more interest in museum collections. As my friends downsize to move to smaller quarters and places that offer lifetime care, I remind them to offer their memorabilia to a local historical society or museum. I have already sent diaries, letters and family heirlooms to the Washington State History Museum, The Rosie the Riveter Museum in California, and the University of Washington Museum. Maybe you have some precious things you could offer to one of the places mentioned above.

Speaking of museums, it is now time to celebrate the fine new Museum of History and Industry as it opens its new digs for all to appreciate. My special friend and I took a look around there but it needs a second or third trip to really soak up the ambience of it all. My focus was a special showing of the Woman Can figure that I donated to MOHAI some years ago. During the women’s movement days this figure sat in the headquarters of the HJR 61 campaign for passage of our state’s Equal Rights Amendment.
After the campaign office closed, I took this figure around Washington State where I had been asked to speak about women’s issues. She is collaged on one side with sexist headlines (Your Son will have to Save a Bundle of Money for College) and on the other side with non-sexist headlines touting advancements made by women. Oh,oh. In her crotch is the headline CREATE. Guess that is neither sexist nor non-sexist since women have always been and continue to be the only child bearers.

I donated this mannequin to MOHAI with the stipulation that I could borrow her back for special occasions. One of those special occasions was my Tea with Georgie program at the Admiral Theater a few years ago. Anyone visiting MOHAI can now see her at the beginning of the 1970s gallery. Interesting that a historic Starbucks sign stands in front of her. I emailed MOHAI and suggested that they add a sign mentioning that this figure has a close connection to the passage of Washington State’s Equal Rights Amendment that came into effect just 40 years ago. I got an email back saying that it might be difficult to get that accomplished right now--maybe for the 45th anniversary. I shot back this comment, “I’m now 92. I would have to wait until I am 98 to see this important sign celebrating the Woman Can’s place in equal rights history.” Soon another email came stating that the art department gave the go sign to do it now with the exclamation, “Yipee” added. I wrote back with an email exclaiming “Yippee,” also.

My friend who was the originator of this figure asked me to send her a picture. Luckily a city newspaper photographer was nearby when I visited MOHAI. I asked him to take my picture in front of this special Woman Can who reflects the countless hours that many women in the seventies worked in gaining equal rights for all those women who followed after them. And it was not only women who supported ERA. There were many men who came out of the woodwork to proclaim that women needed this legislation. Hurray for them. That is proof that when people use their intelligence and stop relying on their biases and outmoded acculturation, change can be made to improve life for everyone.

Georgie Bright Kunkel is a freelance writer who can be reached at gnkunkel@comcast.net or 206-935-8663.

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