Introducing Our New Exhibit on Women in the Health Sciences: A Curator’s Perspective

bookmark image for "There's a Place for You": Oregon Women in the Health Sciences

The Library’s new exhibit, “There’s a Place for You”: Oregon Women in the Health Sciences, is now available online in time for Women’s History Month!

The exhibit centers selected stories of women’s lived experiences in the health professions, juxtaposed with popular images and marketing materials aimed at recruiting women into health sciences careers. In addition to the digital exhibit, a new digital collection, the Lucy Davis Phillips Collection, documents a detailed survey of women graduates of Oregon medical schools, as conducted by University Registrar Lucy Davis Phillips in the 1930s.

This exhibit was expertly curated by Pamela Pierce, Digital Scholarship and Repository Librarian, OHSU Library. Pamela graciously answered a few questions about curating this exhibit. Her answers are below.

Pamela Pierce, Digital Scholarship and Repository Librarian
Pamela Pierce, Digital Scholarship and Repository Librarian

What drew you to explore this subject for our spring exhibit?

I’m passionate about history and personal narratives that relate to how women forge their chosen professional lives. I think that the health sciences are particularly interesting, because people come to those professions with deeply gendered expectations. Our perceptions of what care work looks like and who does that work are wrapped up with ideas connected to motherhood, science, and domesticity. Curating this exhibit also gave me the opportunity to see how those ideas have evolved over time and in different fields of study.

How did you settle on the themes of this exhibit, specifically exploring the images conveyed in marketing materials as well as the accounts of people’s lived experiences working in the field?

I’ve been studying the history of women formally since 2005. I was a Women’s Studies student at the University of Arizona, specializing in the history of women in the western United States. I became deeply interested in how the West was marketed as a place and an idea, and how that intersected with the stories of women. I continued that interest as an American Studies graduate student. I did a master’s thesis project that looked at how the Women’s Land Army was marketed and how that marketing differed from their actual lived experience. The Women’s Land Army were the Rosie the Riveters of the farm during World War I and World War II. They were a large, organized group that enabled women for a time to reconfigure their lives and work experiences. The question became whether that lasted beyond the wars or not. This exhibit was a return to some of those same questions. Working with the marketing materials was my favorite part. I think that images are used to tell so many stories that don’t actually play out in reality. I’m interested in how the images are used and why they are selected to tell particular narratives.

Were you surprised by anything you found out during your research for this exhibit?

Dentistry was one of the fields that surprised me. I didn’t realize that even the equipment used in that profession had to be adjusted because it was predominantly made for men’s bodies. Women in dentistry also only earn 65 cents for every dollar a man makes. Only 13 cents of that gap can be attributed to differences in experience levels, specialty, and hours worked. I would like to see that change.

Dean Carol Lindeman outfitted in cowboy boots during a visit to LaGrande, 1989.
Dean Carol Lindeman outfitted in cowboy boots during a visit to LaGrande, 1989. Historical Image Collection.

It’s hard for a curator to pick “favorites” in an exhibit. But if you just had to pick a favorite item, what would it be?

I think my favorite photo is of Carol Lindeman in LaGrande. I love the cowboy boots she is wearing. The photo ties together my own interests in the West with a woman getting out there and pursuing her career. One of Dr. Lindeman’s first projects as Dean of the School of Nursing was a tour of Oregon to determine the role of the School of Nursing. LaGrande was home to the first branch campus.

While the Library’s physical spaces will be closed to the public starting the week of March 23rd, we encourage you to visit both the digital exhibit & related digital collection for an engaging perspective on women in the health sciences, available online 24/7 from anywhere. We will update the exhibit platform and the Library website when public access to the Library resumes and the physical portion of the exhibit will be available to view in person.