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Nine Women’s History Stories from across the Smithsonian

Ruth Asawa internment camp ID. Includes a photo of Asawa and the text "United States Relocation Authority. Citizen's Indefinite Leave."

Ruth Asawa incarceration camp ID, National Portrait Gallery.

Sharing American women's history is something Smithsonian museums and organizations do every day. But on the last Wednesday in January, our museums and Smithsonian Affiliates treated our social media audiences to stories of lesser-known women.

The result? We increased awareness of these women and their stories. More than 1,800 people across Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook used the hashtag #BecauseOfHerStory to talk about women's history.

With so many stories of women in sports, art, science, work, and more, it's hard to pick favorites! But here are a few we don't want you to miss.

1. Kittie Knox

Our Smithsonian Libraries shared this photo of bicylist Kittie Knox, who fought racial discrimination as an African American cyclist in the 1890s. She was involved in a lawsuit against a Boston cycling club that denied cyclists of color from entering a race. Her enthusiasm for cycling, despite difficulties, paved the way for future women and cyclists of color.



2. Concha Sanchez

Our National Museum of American History shared an apron used by businesswoman Concepción "Concha" Sanchez. Beginning in the 1920s, Sanchez supported her family by baking and selling tortillas. Her electric molino (corn mill) is also in their collection.

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3. Mary Agnes Chase

Botanist Mary Agnes Chase, who specialized in studying grasses, worked for the Smithsonian. She had to finance many of her own expeditions to South America because funders would not support a woman. She also picketed the White House in 1918 and 1919 with fellow suffragists. Many of her specimens are in our National Museum of Natural History collection.



4. Hazel Dickens

Our Smithsonian Folkways featured one of the first women to perform bluegrass, Hazel Dickens. She inspired countless women singers and musicians, including her friend Alice Gerrard. Dickens and Gerrard perform together in this photo. 

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5. Maria Oakley Dewing

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and Renwick Gallery shared this painting by Maria Oakey Dewing. Dewing once said "I must paint pictures or die." But she stopped painting in 1881, after she married a fellow artist. Like many other artistic couples at the time, Dewing was expected to take on different work as a wife and a mother.



6.  Ruth Asawa

Our National Portrait Gallery shared artist Ruth Asawa's incarceration camp ID. Asawa was one of nearly 120,000 U.S. citizens of Japanese ancestry and Japanese nationals incarcerated by the U.S. government during World War II. Even after the war, Asawa faced prejudice that stopped her from being able to get a degree to teach art. She attended Black Mountain College instead, where she became interested in sculpture.

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7.  Belle Kogan

Our Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum posted a cup and saucer designed by Belle Kogan. Kogan was the first woman to establish her own independent consulting firm. By 1939, she built a staff of three female designers.

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8.  Mary Breckinridge

Our National Postal Museum shared this stamp featuring nurse Mary Breckinridge. She founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) in 1925 to bring European midwifery skills to rural Americans. By 1959, the FNS midwives had assisted with more than 10,000 deliveries. Their deliveries had signifigantly fewer maternal deaths than the national average.



9. Dr. Patricia Bath

Our Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation featured Dr. Patricia Bath. Bath invented a laser to remove cataracts, a cloudiness that forms in the lens of an eye that can cause distorted vision and blindness. This invention was just one of many achievements in a career breaking ground for women and African Americans in the medical profession.

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We invite you to explore more American women's history stories from the Smithsonian by searching the hashtag #BecauseOfHerStory on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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