Center for Women's History
Explore women's history through exhibitions, programs, scholarship, and immersive multimedia.
About the center
Our Center for Women’s History is the first of its kind in the nation within the walls of a major museum. At the Center, we explore the lives and legacies of women who have shaped and continue to shape the American experience. As a hub for scholarship and education, the Center demonstrates how women across the spectrum of race, class, and sexuality exercised power and effected change. Guided by a committee of distinguished historians and informed by the latest research, the Center features permanent installations, temporary exhibitions, and a vibrant array of talks and programs, enriching the cultural landscape of New York City and creating new opportunities for historical discovery.
"Miss Rose Bower of North Dakota" Woman playing trumpet, wearing "Votes for Women" sash. Gelatin Silver Photograph, New-York Historical Society.
Major funding for the Center for Women's History programs provided by
The Estate of Jean Dubinsky Appleton
Claudine and Fred Bacher
James Basker and Angela Vallot
Joyce B. Cowin
Diana and Joseph DiMenna
Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation
The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation
Richard Gilder and Lois Chiles
Susan and Roger Hertog
Susan and Robert Klein
The Leonard & Judy Lauder Fund
Diane and Adam E. Max
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Jennifer and John Monsky
Amanda and Neal Moszkowski
Jean Margo Reid
Pan and Scott Schafler
Eric J. and Daria L. Wallach
Leah and Michael R. Weisberg
Public funding for the Center for Women’s History
The New York City Council
New York City Department of Cultural Affairs
Empire State Development and I Love New York under
Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Development Council Initiative
Institute of Museum and Library Services
Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women’s History
Now in its fifth year, the Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women's History is the cornerstone of the Center for Women's History's public and scholarly programs. The 2020 conference contemplates the legacy of the 19th Amendment in its centennial year. Scholars, journalists, jurists, and activists will consider the suffrage movement in all of its forms and complexity and explore the ways in which women have organized for full freedom and citizenship in the 100 years since ratification. The conference coincides with our exhibition on the same themes, Women March, opening Feb. 28 in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery.
Image: Sievers Studio, League of Women Voters, 1920. Missouri History Museum
From Suffrage to Power: Reflections on Women’s Citizenship
One hundred years ago, the ratification of the 19th Amendment enshrined the voting rights of women in the United States Constitution. The struggle for suffrage had begun over 70 years earlier, and had, at different moments, united and divided American women across lines of race, region, class, and religion. Ratification in 1920 represented a significant but incomplete victory: White supremacist laws and violence still kept many women from voting, while discrimination in employment, public service, health care, and the courts kept women from achieving full and equal citizenship. As Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson declared in 1947: “The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote and that is all it gave them.”
For advocates of gender equity then, the 19th Amendment was “a beginning, not an end,” as Jackson’s successor on the bench, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, said. On the centennial of suffrage, the Center for Women’s History explores the struggles for women’s equality in all their forms and complexity, from the beginnings of the abolitionist and suffrage movements through the present.
Louise Mirrer, president and CEO, New-York Historical Society
Valerie Paley, director of the Center for Women’s History and senior vice president and chief historian, New-York Historical Society
U.S. Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, 12th Congressional District, New York
INTRODUCTORY KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Adele Logan Alexander, George Washington University and author of Princess of the Hither Isles (2019)
Radical Origins: Abolition, Suffrage, and the Civil War: The Civil War culminated in landmark constitutional amendments that brought about sweeping social change, like the abolishment of slavery, birthright citizenship, and voting rights for African American men. The Reconstruction amendments were also the first to mention gender in the Constitution. This panel discusses the complicated history of abolition and suffrage in the 19th century and how the outcome of the Civil War transformed the path toward women’s suffrage.
Martha S. Jones, Johns Hopkins University and author of Birthright Citizens: A History of Race and Rights in Antebellum America (2018)
Manisha Sinha, University of Connecticut and author of The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition (2016)
Lisa Tetrault, Carnegie Mellon University and author of The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (2014)
Stephanie McCurry, Columbia University and author of Women’s War: Fighting and Surviving the American Civil War (2019)
Suffrage and Citizenship: The Road to the 19th Amendment: The 19th Amendment represented decades of suffragists’ efforts to expand democracy and extend one of the most essential tenets of citizenship to women. Its ratification in 1920 was one of the largest expansions of the franchise in American history, but there were shortcomings: Many black women in the Jim Crow South experienced voter suppression due to literacy tests and poll taxes, and Native and Asian American women were denied the franchise because of citizenship status. This panel considers the impact and limitations of the 19th Amendment across race, class, gender, and citizenship status.
Brenda J. Child, University of Minnesota, former president of the Native American & Indigenous Studies Association, and author of My Grandfather’s Knocking Sticks: Ojibwe Family Life and Labor on the Reservation (2014)
Treva Lindsey, Ohio State University and author of Colored No More: Reinventing Black Womanhood in Washington D.C. (2017)
Lauren Santangelo, Princeton University and New-York Historical Society, and author of Suffrage And The City: New York Women Battle For The Ballot (2019)
Brent Staples, New York Times and 2019 Pulitzer Prize recipient for editorial writing
Linda Greenhouse, Yale Law School and Joseph Goldstein Lecturer in Law, Senior Research Scholar in Law, Knight Distinguished Journalist in Residence and author of Just a Journalist: On the Press, Life, and the Spaces Between (2017)
AFTERNOON KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Brittney Cooper, Rutgers University and author of Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower (2018)
Full Freedom for Women? The 1960s and Beyond: As one of the many radical movements that gripped the 1960s, women’s liberation sought to fulfill the promise of the 19th Amendment and secure the full political, legal, and social equality of women. In practice, the category of “women” was crosscut by race, class, sexuality, and national origin, resulting in different and sometimes competing definitions of equality. This panel explores how diverse groups of women furthered the expansion of citizenship from the 1960s to the end of the century and how they contended with the limits they faced.
Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh and author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018)
Blanche Wiesen Cook, John Jay College and the Graduate Center, CUNY and author of the three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt (1992-2016)
Premilla Nadasen, Barnard College and author of Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement (2015)
Vicki Ruiz, University of California, Irvine and author of From Out of the Shadows: Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America (10th anniversary edition, 2008)
Rebecca Traister, New York magazine and author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger (2018)
Marching Forward: Reflections on the Past, Present, and Future: “The Future is Female” has become a popular slogan for the feminist movement of the 21st century, appearing on T-shirts, protest signs, and internet banners. This aspirational future, free of gender oppression, will be built upon two centuries of women’s organizing for suffrage and legal equality. This panel evaluates the most pressing feminist issues of our time in light of the historical legacies of women’s collective action. Drawing lessons from the past to illuminate the path forward, panelists discuss contemporary struggles against gender violence, immigration restriction, labor abuses, and more.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO, National Women’s Law Center
Kate Clarke Lemay, historian at the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution and curator and author of Votes for Women: A Portrait Of Persistence (2019)
Mae Ngai, Columbia University and author of The Lucky Ones: One Family and the Extraordinary Invention of Chinese America (2010)
Irin Carmon, New York magazine and CNN contributor and co-author of Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2015)
2019 CONFERENCE: Ninety-Nine Years Since Prohibition
On Sunday, March 3, 2019, the Center for Women’s History at New-York Historical Society presented the 4th annual Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women’s History, the cornerstone of the Center’s suite of public and scholarly programs. The 2019 conference focused on the history of Prohibition, 100 years after the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in the United States.
Prohibition began on January 20, 1920. For some women and men, this represented the culmination of decades of struggle for temperance, a movement that promised to protect women and families from alcoholism. Many others challenged the new laws, particularly in New York City, where the patrons of speakeasies and ballrooms not only ignored prohibition, but transgressed boundaries of gender, race, and sexuality as well. The “roaring twenties” also witnessed the dramatic growth of law enforcement, as efforts to control the consumption of alcohol led to new kinds of urban policing which themselves generated new forms of inequality. One thing was for certain; by the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, it had transformed the nation.
>> Watch sessions from the 2019 conference below or on our Facebook page.
Louise Mirrer, President and CEO, New-York Historical Society
Valerie Paley, Senior Vice President, Chief Historian, Director of the Center for Women’s History, New-York Historical Society.
MORNING KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Lisa McGirr, Harvard University, author of The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State
Women and the American Story: A Women’s History Curriculum Guide for Grades 6-12
Mia Nagawiecki, Vice President for Education, New-York Historical Society
Women Have Always Worked: A Massive Open Online Course in Women’s History
Alice Kessler-Harris, R. Gordon Hoxie Professor Emerita of American History, Columbia University and Chair of the Scholarly Advisory Board of the Center for Women’s History, N-YHS
Women, Temperance and Reform: The temperance movement was a key site for women’s political action in the era before suffrage. Temperance activists linked their efforts to broader reform projects, but also to racial and ethnic stereotypes. This panel will explore the many forms that women’s temperance activism took, both before and during the era of Prohibition.
Richard Chused, New York School of Law, co-author of Gendered Law in American History
Crystal Feimster, Yale University, author of Southern Horrors: Women and the Politics of Rape and Lynching
Lori Ginzberg, Penn State University, author of Women and the Work of Benevolence: Morality, Politics, and Class in the Nineteenth-Century United States
Julie C. Suk, Professor of Sociology and Dean for Master’s Programs at The Graduate Center, CUNY
Moderator: Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University and New-York Historical Society
Rewriting the Rules: Prohibition did not end the consumption of alcohol in the United States. By forcing drinkers into hiding, however, the law created new, illicit spaces in which women and men made their livings while practicing new forms of countercultural expression. This panel examines Prohibition at the grassroots, as experienced by immigrants, people of color, and gay and lesbian New Yorkers.
Marni Davis, Georgia State University, author of Jews and Booze: Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition
LaShawn Harris, Michigan State University, author of Sex Workers, Psychics and Numbers Runners: Black Women in New York City's Underground Economy
Daniel Hurewitz, Hunter College, CUNY, author of Stepping Out: Nine Walks Through New York City’s Gay and Lesbian Past
Moderator: Nancy Mirabal, University of Maryland, College Park, author of Suspect Freedoms: The Racial and Sexual Politics of Cubanidad in New York City, 1823-1957
AFTERNOON KEYNOTE ADDRESS
Senator Liz Krueger, Chair of the Senate Finance Committee, New York State Senate
Enforcing the Law: The effort to enforce prohibition generated new kinds of policing and surveillance and new forms of vigilante justice. This panel will consider the emergence of these new forms of law enforcement, and their relationship to mass incarceration and policing in our own time. Panelists will discuss law, politics, and organizing today.
Cheryl Hicks, University of Delaware, author of Talk with You Like a Woman: African American Women, Justice, and Reform in New York, 1890-1935
Linda Gordon, NYU, author of The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition
Andrea J. Ritchie, attorney and activist, author of Invisible No More: Police Violence Against Black Women and Women of Color
Moderator: Irin Carmon, Journalist, Washington Post, MSNBC, and author of The Notorious RBG
Last Call: Reflections on the History of Prohibition: Lisa McGirr and Daniel Okrent will reflect on the day’s presentations in the context of their own work, considering how the study of Prohibition informs our understanding of women’s history and American history writ large.
Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition
Lisa McGirr, Harvard University, author of The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State
Moderator: Nick Juravich, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow in Women's History, New-York Historical Society
Valerie Paley, Senior Vice President, Senior Chief Historian and Director, Center for Women’s History, New-York Historical Society
2018 CONFERENCE: Sex and the Constitution
Sunday, March 4
Leading scholars of history and law explore the ways in which the U.S. Constitution has defined, protected, and regulated the rights and freedoms of sexuality, marriage, and reproduction throughout our nation’s history. Speakers look at key Supreme Court cases, as well as the political, social, and cultural contexts in which they were decided. They also consider how American women have worked to guarantee and expand these rights and freedoms, both inside and outside of the courtroom, and what the future of law and organizing holds.
Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago, author of Sex and the Constitution, 2017
Governing Bodies: Sex in the Constitution
As Geoffrey Stone writes in Sex and the Constitution (2017), the founding document itself says nothing about sexual behavior or orientation. How, then, have jurists interpreted the U.S. Constitution to shape the legal landscape of rights, protections, and regulations that govern sex in the United States?
Akhil Reed Amar, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law, New York Law School; Former President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991-2008)
Moderator: Robert C. Post, Sterling Professor of Law, Yale Law School
The Law and Sex throughout History: Constitutional law governing sex has evolved considerably since the American founding. Panelists will discuss how women and men have organized throughout history to define and guarantee new rights and freedoms under the Constitution, inside and outside the courtroom.
Nancy Cott, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University
Estelle Freedman, Edgar E. Robinson Professor in U.S. History, Stanford University
Deborah Gray White, Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of History, Rutgers University
Moderator: Reva Siegel, Nicholas deB. Katzenbach Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Sex and Equality in the Age of Trump
In the epilogue to Sex and the Constitution (2017), Geoffrey Stone writes, “our nation has taken an important step in our protection of human dignity and equality.” The 2016 election complicated this progress, even while it has also sparked new activism, journalism, and resistance. Panelists will discuss law, politics, and organizing today.
Virginia Espino, Oral historian and lecturer, University of California at Los Angeles;
Filmmaker, “No Más Bebés”
Katherine Franke, Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
Fatima Goss Graves, President and CEO, National Women’s Law Center
Moderator: Irin Carmon, Journalist (Washington Post, MSNBC) and Author (The Notorious RBG, 2015)
Reflecting on "Sex and the Constitution"
Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago
Amy Adler, Emily Kempin Professor of Law, New York University
Major funding for the programs of the Center for Women’s History has been provided by Joyce B. Cowin, Diane and Adam E. Max, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Jean Margo Reid, The Estate of Jean Dubinsky Appleton, Eric J. & Daria L. Wallach, Diana and Joseph DiMenna, Deutsche Bank, Claudine and Fred Bacher, James Basker and Angela Vallot, The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation, Hogan Lovells, and The Caroline M. Lowndes Foundation.
Image: Joseph Golinken, Speakeasy, 1920s. Lithograph. New-York Historical Society Library.
2017 CONFERENCE: Reproductive Rights in Historical Context
The second annual Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women's History focused on the history of reproductive justice, including the fluctuating legal and cultural status of contraception throughout American history, the evolution of obstetrics and gynecological medicine, and the role of race and class in the birth control movement.
2016 CONFERENCE: Sweat Equity: Women in the Garment Industry
The first annual Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women's History explored the garment industry and its historical impact on women, and was organized in memory of Jean Dubinsky Appleton, daughter of veteran labor organizer David Dubinsky.