Susan Whiting says, “When we don’t include women’s contributions to history, we’re teaching a story riddled with holes.” Susan, who serves as the Chair of the Board of the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM), is excited to announce that after 26 years of providing online information about women’s contributions to history to teachers, students and curious people wanting to know more, NWHM is opening an interactive exhibit in The Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library in Washington, D. C. and will present a special showing of a film called “Mankiller,” directed by Valerie Red-Horse Mohl and produced by Gale Hurd. It tells the story of Wilma Mankiller, one of the five women on the new set of quarters, and the first woman to lead the Cherokee Nation. The event is free and open to the public, but you’ll need to register to attend.
NWHM is a reimagined museum, Susan says. Instead of going into a traditional big building, the Museum will showcase two areas within the MLK Library beginning in 2023. On the first floor, they will feature a special exhibit of the African American women in Washington, D.C. who have influenced social change in the U.S. On the lower level there will be an ongoing exhibit on storytelling, where people can research the stories of women in their families and record new stories of their own. The online component of the Museum’s work will continue and get even more inclusive as they add more stories of outstanding women who have been omitted and forgotten in our historical record. NWHM will access numerous spaces to continue its work recording history and preserving it for ourselves and future generations.
History of the Museum
Once upon a time, a group of women moved the statue of three women suffrage leaders from the basement of the U.S. Capitol to the Capitol Rotunda, saying there must be a bigger place for women’s history. The sculpture had been donated by sculptress Adelaide Johnson to the nation as a gift to celebrate the signing of the 19th Amendment, but it didn’t stay in the rotunda long before going back underground. The momentum of moving the statue started a long process of building awareness and working toward having a building to represent women’s accomplishments and contributions to history. Knowing they had to start somewhere, NWHM built a website to provide resources and information—curriculum for teachers, guidance in how to teach women’s history, and ongoing programs – many with special emphasis – throughout the year, like the COVID journaling project which gathers stories and even objects from women recording their memories of the pandemic. Millions of visitors explore the NWHM website every year. However, the NWHM board had always dreamed of providing a place where we all could physically gather, and they finally have it in a central location in our nation’s capital.
Being Chair of the National Women’s History Museum Board is a culmination of Susan’s entire life. She said as a child she was always looking for role models and examples of what she could do. Her speech therapist mother and several entrepreneurial aunts provided what she needed. She didn’t have a career in mind when she happened onto a degree focused on economics, math and science after the speech therapy department closed in the college where she started her studies. She liked those subjects and following college ended up in a management training program for the Nielson Company. She became the first woman doing what she did and spent a year learning about the business, how they created the ratings and built the consumer measures that fueled the television advertising industry. Susan says that she loves building new things and she got to build the early cable television industry. Even though Nielson was a large company, she says it was entrepreneurial in spirit. Eventually she had done so many different things in the company, headed so many aspects and developed so many relationships with top clients, that she became a candidate to lead the company. One of her entrepreneur aunts told her, “Susan, you know, I think you could be president of the company.” Susan voiced her interest to her boss, who was about to retire, and the rest is history, with top management as CEO/Chair of Nielsen’s global media business and then Vice Chair of the parent company. Now she feels like she has come full circle—working from her home on the farmland her family has owned for generations, she is helping to build something new and provide role models by uncovering stories of amazing women whose contributions shaped the country we live in.
Explore the Museum
Listen or watch this conversation to find out more about Susan’s 35 year-long career with Nielson, and her hopes and plans for the National Women’s History Museum. Check out the NWHM’s website (womenshistory.org) and learn amazing new facts about women who made history. For example, did you know that the first woman to run for President did so in 1870—50 years before women could vote? Her name was Victoria Claflin Woodhull and she ran on the Equal Rights Party platform, she was the first female stockbroker, and was oddly disqualified because of age, not gender. She was only 34 years old. There is so much more to see and learn, and so many women are missing from our textbooks. It will truly open your eyes to where women belong in history and should firmly stand, as leaders forging a better world every day.