Listening to Vineyard women
Among the events in recognition of International Women's Month, the Martha's Vineyard Museum is featuring "Voices of Vineyard Women," an exhibit produced by the museum's oral history curator, Linsey Lee. Opening Saturday, March 7, with a program highlighted by Arnie Reisman's film, "The Powder and Glory," about the cosmetics empires of Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein, "Voices of Vineyard Women" will be presented in the gallery. It includes, for the first time, audio excerpts from the actual interviews, as well as archival photos and portraits by Ms. Lee.
Photo courtesy of Sylvia Rogers
Vineyard women have a long and courageous history, going back to the whaling days, according to Ms. Lee. "They were all strong women," she says, "who took care of the home, children, and the family business, often for years at a time."
Ms. Lee continues, "All through the two World Wars and the Great Depression, even with those challenges, women showed that the Vineyard is a good place to test your core." She says, "Each of these stories is different, but some share the fact that women were both tied to family while being fiercely independent. And often humor was a survival approach as well."
She notes that particularly for women, Island life was a challenge, even before World War II. "They understood from living on Martha's Vineyard that life is both difficult and joyful," Ms. Lee says. "They displayed great strength of character, as they were willing to choose their own way, being strong, independent, and resilient. I think the common thread is that resiliency." And she adds, "We should celebrate these women of the Vineyard."
Photo courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Museum
The current histories, photographs, and text from many recorded interviews often contain personal photo albums scanned from pictures loaned from the subjects or their families.
Polly Murphy and Nancy Whiting, for instance, are both included in an album reflecting their journeys with the NAACP to North Carolina to help register new voters during the Civil Rights struggle.
A new feature for this exhibit is the option of hearing the taped recordings of the subjects in the photographs. One can hear Betty Honey reading a letter from her mother about the Hurricane of 1938, and hear Helen Lamb, the founder of Camp Jabberwocky, reciting the Lewis Carroll poem that gave the camp its name.
This innovative feature provides a more intimate portrait of each woman who can be heard sharing memories in her own voice. Being able to hear those who have died makes for a rather poignant experience.
The late Dorothy West, for instance, tells stories of her early years on the Vineyard and of the Harlem Renaissance, of which she was the last survivor.