The Monroe County History Center will debut the “SEE HER RUN: Monroe County Women in Politics” exhibit Tuesday. It’s free to the public and will run from March 2 to Sept. 30.
The inspiration for the exhibit stemmed from the center’s commemoration of the women’s suffrage centennial last year, which focused on the contributions of Monroe County women to politics. Collection Manager Hilary Fleck said she wanted to go more in-depth and continue highlighting women involved in politics and public service with the new exhibit.
And after nearly half a year of work, Fleck said she believes the exhibit has the power to make a strong impression – but there have been obstacles along the way that made the process difficult, such as the pandemic.
“I have not been able to access the resources the public library has,” Fleck said. “And our public library has a lot of resources.”
Education Manager Andrea Hadsell said that not having access to the Indiana Room sometimes put a bit of a damper on the research process.
“That had a lot of microfilm,” Hadsell said. “Not being able to go to those locations and go through those resources did create an obstacle.”
However, Hadsell said their own records at the Monroe County History Center helped move the process along in a research charge led by Fleck.
“She started going full-steam ahead this past winter,” Hadsell said. “Primary sources, election records, newspaper articles and looking at a lot of the collections we have in our storage – we also have so many political buttons and posters.”
The months of research ultimately resulted in an exhibit chock-full of Monroe County women’s political history, including information about Bloomington’s first female mayor, Mary Alice Dunlap, in a poignant photo taken during the time she served.
“There’s a magazine spread from the 1960s featuring Mary Alice Dunlap, the first female mayor of Bloomington,” Hadsell said. “The magazine spread is Dunlap at a boardroom table surrounded by men.”
The exhibit features many powerful moments from Monroe County’s history, according to Hadsell, and it has had a profound influence on those who have been a part of the exhibit-building process.
“You’re seeing people that have gone grocery shopping and walked the halls of our schools,” Hadsell said. “And you get to know that they have had a massive impact not just in Bloomington, but in Monroe County and Indiana.”
Fleck said she has also been emotionally affected by the exhibit, and she hopes it leaves a lasting impression on visitors and inspires more interest in politics and public service from women.
“The more that women see themselves in these positions of power, the more they will strive for these positions of power,” said Fleck. “I hope this inspires other people to get involved in politics.”
IU freshman Ana Gaston said this exhibit challenges the notion that women don’t belong in politics.
“It seems to be very difficult to find women in leadership,” Gaston said. “They are not only turned away from things like politics, but they are also taught from a young age that they don’t have a seat at the table.”
Gaston said she hopes that other students take as much of an interest in politics and this exhibit as she does.
“I am already a bit of a sucker for museums and the like, so to have an exhibit tailored to my interests sounds awesome,” Gaston said. “I really hope schools in Bloomington and also IU students take advantage of having such a unique exhibit.”