Here’s a quick quiz. Were people in these positions more likely to be male or female?
• 1910 Sunday School teacher.
• 1920s hospital administrator.
• World War I nurse
• 1946 factory worker carrying a sign that read “We strike for vacation with pay.”
• Chemistry professor.
• Telephone operator.
Visit the exhibit “She Rolled Up Her Sleeves,” which opened earlier this month at the Luzerne County Historical Society Museum in downtown Wilkes-Barre and you’ll see decades of evidence that women worked in all those occupations and more.
“I don’t think people realize what an important role women played. They didn’t get the recognition,” said Jennifer Domzalski of Nanticoke, who attended the opening reception.
“That’s why we wanted to have this exhibit,” curator Mary Ruth Burke said. “We mention women who are famous, like Ellen Palmer, but we wanted to show how the ordinary women kept things running.”
Indeed, the display includes a photograph of Ellen Webster Palmer, who advocated to send children to school instead of to work in the mining industry. You may have heard of this “friend of the working boy” or seen her statue on the River Common in Wilkes-Barre.
You’re probably less likely to have heard of Anna L. Malthaner, head nurse at Wilkes-Barre General Hospital in 1887, or Fannie Sax Long, who founded the first Girl Scout troop in the Wyoming Valley in 1922, or “Miss Dominguez,” who appears to be supervising science experiments at Wilkes College in a 1951 edition of the yearbook.
Divided into several sections, the exhibit shows the uniforms worn by nurses and military women — who were sometimes the same people — along with the textbooks a teacher would have used in long-ago classrooms where the children wrote with chalk on slates and the desks were hooked together.
An adding machine from the early 1900s and a vintage Remington typewriter represent office work while skeins of silk and factory equipment represent the textile industry.
A photograph from a parade shows the employees of a lace-manufacturing company all decked out, apparently in some of the finery their factory produced. War posters, meanwhile, explain how women working in predominantly male factory jobs freed men to fight in the military and indicate that some of “our girls” had enlisted in the military as well.
The exhibit includes artifacts used in the home, too, among them a washboard for scrubbing clothes, a coal stove for cooking food and an old-fashioned iron that had to be heated before you could press out wrinkles.
Historical society volunteer Gina Thackara crafted a large quilt to honor various roles of women, from pioneer to nurse to nun to miner’s wife to canal boat worker’s wife to telephone operator to the women who volunteered at their churches and synagogues.
“I love it,” Debbie Morrin of the Mountain Top area said, admiring the handiwork. “It’s beautiful.”