Arlington, VA

Arlington Public Library unveiled a trove of photographs and documents this week that spotlights the women in Arlington who’ve shaped the county’s history.

The digital exhibition is called Women’s Work: Stories of Persistence and Influence and it contains photographs, letters, bumper stickers, and voting guides taken from the Center for Local History’s (CLH) Community Archives. The exhibition organizes the records under several categories from politics to education.

Library spokesman Henrik Sundqvist said the project has been in the works for the past two-and-a-half years.

“The Center for Local History’s mission is to collect, preserve, and share the history of Arlington County,” he said.

One of the project’s stories chronicles how women created at network of neighborhood libraries before WWI, despite the work being considered “too dangerous” for women not long beforehand.

After the war, the county’s population grew enough to sustain a more formal library system, the exhibition’s page on libraries explains. Arlington resident Eleanor Leonard was appointed as the first professional librarian.

Other stories introduce readers to famed figures like suffragette Gertrude Crocker, who was jailed multiple times while fighting for women’s right to vote, and Margarite Syphax, who created her own real estate company to serve all families after learning other companies refused to sell or buy from African-Americans.

The digital exhibition is a permanent one funded by the library’s fiscal year 2018 budget, and staff hopes the project will continue to grow.

“Our goal is to highlight some of the untold stories of the many women pioneers who helped shape Arlington,” Sundqvist said. “Our hope is to uncover more stories as our collections grow.”

Although the files shared online were already a part of Arlington archives, the exhibition’s organizers wanted to shine a light on women’s history in the county.

“We always knew that women played an important part in building this County, but the extent of their contributions was amazing,” said Judith Knudsen, who works as a manager at the Center for Local History. “We learned, for example, that one of the many initiatives of The Church Women United was to help migrant workers in the early ’60s.”

Currently, none of the women featured in the digital collection are Vietnamese and few are African American. Both groups have helped build historical Arlington landmarks like Little Saigon and the newly re-named Green Valley neighborhood.

Sundqvist said the library hopes to expand the collection to include additional diversity.

“Yes, of course,” he said in response to a question from ARLnow. “The library welcomes donations of materials that help tell the stories of Arlington in a more comprehensive way.”

Those interested in donating materials to the Community Archives can learn how here.

Photos via Arlington Public Library

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