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Because of Her Story: The Funk List

Vicki Funk in garden

It is with heavy hearts that we say goodbye to Dr. Vicki Funk, a botanist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, and advisor to the American Women's History Initiative (AWHI), who died October 22, 2019. Dr. Funk was Curator of Asteraceae (daisies for the non-scientists) in the Botany Department for a stunning 38 years. She has over 280 publications credited to her as either lead or contributing author. She was named as an AAAS Fellow in 1987 and received the Linnaean Society's Linneaen Medal for Botany and the American Society of Plant Taxonimist's Asa Gray Award over the past several months.

Effie Kapsalis, AWHI's digital strategist, shares her reflections on Dr. Funk's work to ensure Smithsonian women in STEM received the recognition they deserve:

On March 27th, 2014, I added Dr. Funk's name to a worklist for a Wikipedia edit-a-thon held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives on the history of women in STEM. I know this because of the page "edit history" on Wikipedia. Her article was written at an event that same month for women's history month. I followed up by featuring her as a "Women in Science Wednesday" in the Archives' weekly feature of notable woman in science. The Women in Science Wednesday campaign was a way to make quick "secondary sources" for Wikipedia which editors rely on for the references in articles.

Campaign graphic with orange banner and text.
Women in Science Wednesday: Dr. Vicki Funk

I didn't meet Dr. Funk until we were both serving on AWHI's coordinating committee (the Smithsonian has over 6,300 employees). She approached me after one of those meetings and said, "You're the one who got my article written." She went on to describe how her niece saw the page and called her to say she was impressed her aunt was "on Wikipedia", and that she had gained a little "cred". That moment solidified for me the importance of being named and acknowledged, and additionally left me daunted by how much work we had to do with only 18% of biographies on Wikipedia about women.

Dr. Funk and I, along with Pam Henson and Tammy Peters at the Archives, hatched a plan to apply to the AWHI Curatorial Pool Fund to hire a digital curator to write a comprehensive history of women in science in America with Smithsonian women scientists as a case study. In the meantime, Dr. Funk got to work and reached out to her network of dozens of scientists to write down, in a shared spreadsheet, "female firsts and seconds" in their various disciplines, from astrophysics to zoology. She then had her summer intern write Wikipedia notability statements for this list of over 125 names.

Google spreadsheet with data about women in science.
This list of notable Smithsonian women in science was crowd-sourced by Dr. Vicki Funk with Smithsonian staff.

Today, the list, which I've referred to as the "spreadsheet of awesomeness", has grown to over 400 names due to the work of Dr. Elizabeth Harmon, a digital curator at our Smithsonian Institution Archives. The Smithsonian's data scientists in our Research Computing Division have already computed against this list to compile the "life's work" of these women, aggregating publications, collections, and archives across the Smithsonian. When it is complete, we will seed hundreds of Wikipedia articles.

It was started with Dr. Funk's spirit, can-do attitude, and the desire to highlight many other women who helped to build in-roads into the field of science. From today on, the list will be called "The Funk List".

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