2018: Smithsonian’s
Year of the Woman

2018: Smithsonian's Year of the Woman
December202018

Many have dubbed 2018 the “Year of the Woman” thanks to a record number of women running for (and winning!) political office. The Smithsonian rode its own “pink wave” this year, with the launch of the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative, an institution-wide effort to tell the complete and compelling story of women in America.

In that spirit, here are seven women—or groups of women—whose voices we heard loud and clear in 2018 through our exhibitions, programs and collections. They speak from the past, present and future.

2018: Smithsonian’s Year of the Woman
Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks, a Virginia tobacco farmer who died at age 31 in 1951, left a legacy unequalled in modern medicine: cells that have lived for decades, contributing to a number of scientific breakthroughs. In May, the National Portrait Gallery paid tribute to Lacks by installing a portrait by artist Kadir Nelson.

“It is a story that each of our visitors, including the thousands of schoolchildren who enter our museum, should know,” said Dorothy Moss, curator of painting and sculpture, National Portrait Gallery.

Image Credit: Kadir Nelson, Henrietta Lacks (HeLa): The Mother of Modern Medicine, 2017. Collection of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Kadir Nelson and the JKBN Group LLC.

Billie Jean King—Great American

Billie Jean King

Billie Jean King, social justice pioneer and global sports icon, received the“Great Americans” award from the National Museum of American History this fall. King won 39 Grand Slam titles during her career and is a leading advocate for gender equality and LGBTQ issues.

King said she was inspired, at age 13, by watching the matches of another female tennis great: Althea Gibson. “Now, I knew what number one looked like. If you can see it, you can be it.”

Image Credit: Event Photography Courtesy National Museum of American History

Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles

Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles

Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles, an all-female mariachi group based in California, released its fourth album in 2018, under the Smithsonian Folkways label. In addition to producing Grammy-winning music, the group is known for succeeding in a traditionally male-dominated field.

Mariachi Reyna member María Luisa Fregoso said the band has opened doors for other women musicians. Now, she says, "All these little girls that wanted to play trumpet have the support they need.

Image Credit: via @mariachireyna on twitter

Amy Sherald with Michelle Obama at portrait Unveiling

Amy Sherald

Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald got the commission of a lifetime when former First Lady Michelle Obama asked her to paint an official portrait for the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait has drawn large crowds to the museum this year, and Sherald’s work has found a new audience.

“Once my paintings are complete, the model no longer lives in that painting as themselves. I see something bigger, more symbolic … an archetype,” said Sherald, describing her creative process.

Image Credit: Photo via Getty/Saul Loeb

"She Can" STEM Girls Summer Camp

Girls in STEM

Over the summer, 60 sixth- to eighth-grade girls assembled their own drones and took part in flight instruction at a first-time National Air and Space Museum "She Can" summer camp focused on aviation.

"Our goal … is to reveal to young women the opportunities available to them in all areas of aviation and encourage them to pursue a future in STEM,” said Ellen Stofan, the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum.

Image Credit: Jim Preston

Gail Anderson

Gail Anderson

New York-based designer, writer and teacher Gail Anderson received the Lifetime Achievement National Design Award at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum this fall. Her 30-year career has spanned Rolling Stone covers and U.S. postage stamps.

On mentorship, she says, “It’s important for me to pay it forward, and I’ve made it a point to keep an eye on my female students of color, in particular. It feels so good to watch students blossom, and to watch their confidence grow.”

Image Credit: Madison Voelkel/BFA.com

"To Future Women" at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

To Future Women

“I hope your country has equal rights and by now a woman has been president.”

A 10-year-old girl from Florida got straight to the point this summer at a four-day Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden gallery experience titled “To Future Women.” The interactive artwork asked visitors to write a letter to women in 20 years’ time, expressing hopes and fears for a future generation. Participants didn’t hold back.

Image Credit: Kate Warren

The Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative is supported in part thanks to people like you. Make a gift now and help us amplify women's voices, reach the next generation, and empower women everywhere.