Hidden Stories of Persistence and Influence
Many years ago, I was attending a party for Charlie, a work colleague who was retiring. It came time to cut the cake and he turned to me - one of the few women in the room - and asked me to do it, adding that it was “women’s work, anyway.”
At the time, I was the assistant division chief responsible for a couple of hundred employees. But to him, I was a woman and he was not, and there were tasks - cake cutting among them - that it was my “job” to do.
Rather than demur, I did as I was asked, and yet never forgot the experience.
Today (with a bit of tongue in cheek) and in honor of Women’s History month, Arlington Public Library launches a new digital exhibition:
Women’s Work: Stories of Persistence and Influence
A New Online Exhibit from the Center for Local History
The collection profiles the women who made Arlington the community it is today. Entrepreneurs, activists, educators, politicians, and homemakers, the women of Arlington helped found Arlington’s first hospital, fought to integrate the school system, and established the Black Heritage museum. Even the public library system we enjoy today, a vibrant system comprised of a Central library and seven branches, exists because of the largesse of citizen bequests and the vision and hard work of leaders of Arlington women’s civic and garden clubs who understood only too well that knowledge is a core service. Several years ago, sociologist Robert Putnam warned in “Bowling Alone” that civic engagement was dying and with it the life and hope of communities. But Putnam doesn’t know Arlington’s residents, particularly its women.
As the exhibit unfolds over the upcoming year, through photographs, personal papers, and oral histories, you will find the story of Dr. Phoebe Hall Knipling, science teacher and founder of the Arlington Outdoor Education Association and its 225-acre Lab in Fauquier County, where Arlington students can experience nature and learn how to protect the environment. And Elizabeth Campbell, board member for Arlington Public Schools and founder of WETA-TV, the first public television station in Washington, D.C. And entrepreneur Margarite Reed Syphax, who began a real estate and construction business with her husband William, and who was one of the first black business women to be designated a Certified Property Manager.
This first release presents several stories and over the next year, we will continue to add more. But this collection will never be complete because a “woman’s work is never done.”
If you know of an Arlington woman who should be included in this exhibition or if you possess artifacts or other source materials of Arlington women that you would like to donate to the community archive, please contact the staff of the Center for Local History.