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"The History of Project"

The History of Nevada Women's History Project (NWHP)
Contributed by:
Kay Sanders
Resident of Nevada

Did you know that between 1960 and 2005 the only statue in the Capitol Rotunda representing the State of Nevada was that of Senator Pat McCarran (1876-1954)?  Each state was allowed two spaces, so in 2001 our organization (only five years old at the time) started a campaign to erect a statue to Sarah Winnemucca (c. 1841-1891), a famous Paiute activist and educator in Nevada.  Even when the Legislature agreed it should be done, they didn’t allocate any funds, which were estimated to be over $200,000.  Undaunted, the Nevada Women’s History Project raised over $235,000, which the Department of Cultural Affairs used to hire a young sculptor from South Dakota.  His magnificent statue of Sarah, with the wind ruffling her buckskin skirt, was dedicated on March 9, 2005 in Washington, D.C.  A duplicate statue stands in the State Capitol in Carson City, while smaller statues were dedicated in Las Vegas and Winnemucca.  The plaque on the statue’s base reads, “Defender of Human Rights, Educator, and Author of First Book by a Native Woman.”

This is just one example of the hard work and determination of the members of the NWHP, which has thrived – thanks to your support -- as a successful non-profit organization since 1996, furthering the cause of gathering and disseminating histories of Nevada women.  Our journey began after the late Jean Ford, a former Nevada Assemblywoman and Senator from Clark County, recognized that there was a serious lack of written material about the history of women in our state.  To remedy this unacceptable situation, in 1995 she involved a core group of interested women to work on creating an organization dedicated to researching and writing about Nevada women.  Fortunately, one of them was Fritsi Ericson, the first President and CEO of the Nevada Women’s Fund.  Fritsi invited our fledgling organization to become a program of the Nevada Women’s Fund, thus enabling us to be officially ratified as a non-profit in January 1996.   The NWHP office is still located within the headquarters of the Nevada Women’s Fund in Reno.

In addition to our quarterly newsletter, the NWHP has published two books.  The first, “Women in Nevada History – An Annotated Bibliography of Published Sources,” came out in 2000 and was distributed to schools and libraries in Nevada.  It was the result of hard work by 90 members who reviewed over 600 books in a four month time span. The second book, “Skirts That Swept the Desert Floor” (2006), containing 100 biographies of Nevada women, was the result of years of work by our Southern Region members.  Copies were sent to school libraries throughout the state. Sales of the book throughout Nevada and elsewhere have been most successful.

Initially the Northern Region held monthly luncheon meetings called “Research Roundtables” at which speakers shared their research.  Later, the Hannah Clapp Lecture Series in Carson City focused on presentations on historic Nevada women.  Recently, planners in the north have included speakers in most of their monthly programs, interspersed occasionally with other activities such as walking tours.  The Southern Region continues to hold luncheons featuring speakers of interest.

One interesting outreach program is “Telling My Story: Memoirs of Today’s Women” (formerly “Letters from Nevada’s Daughters”), which encourages members to write their autobiographies in an organized manner, including suggestions on topics and ideas.

NWHP loves doing tours.  The first Silver State Sampler Tour took place in October 1998 when two busloads of members and guests visited towns and sites in eastern and southern Nevada.  This was so successful that several succeeding tours have been conducted, visiting such fascinating places as Aurora, Berlin, the Ichthyosaur State Park, Tonopah, Paradise Valley, Black Rock Desert, Goldfield, Genoa, Carson City, Fernley, Pyramid Lake, Lovelock, Winnemucca, and the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, California.  Walking tours in Reno include historic homes and women’s clubhouses as well as seedy back alleys in the downtown casino area.

Jean Ford, our beloved leader, died on August 26, 1998, prior to the first tour which she helped plan and had hoped to take.  Jean was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer the fall of 1997.  Always the active leader, she continued her dedicated involvement with NWHP practically up to the day of her death.  After her diagnosis, she served for a few months as NWHP State Coordinator, completed a “Saga of Nevada Women’s Suffrage: 1869 – 1920” tour to schools in northern and eastern Nevada, and worked on the “Annotated Bibliography”, all the while dealing with her illness.  We honor her memory every year in August with a short hike to her final resting place near the Tahoe Rim Trail at the top of Spooner’s Summit, Highway 50.

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