Women “Making History” in Museums

The Case of Female Curators in Postwar New Zealand

in Museum Worlds
Bronwyn Labrum Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Bronwyn.Labrum@tepapa.govt.nz

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This article examines three remarkable New Zealand women, Nancy Adams, Rose Reynolds, and Edna Stephenson, who, as honorary or part-time staff, each began the systematic collecting and display of colonial history at museums in Wellington, Christchurch, and Auckland in the 1950s. Noting how little research has been published on women workers in museums, let alone women history curators, it offers an important correction to the usual story of the heroic, scientific endeavors of male museum directors and managers. Focusing largely on female interests in everyday domestic life, textiles, and clothing, their activities conformed to contemporary gendered norms and mirrored women’s contemporary household role with its emphasis on housekeeping, domestic interiors, and shopping and clothing. This article lays bare the often ad hoc process of “making history” in these museums, and adds complexity and a greater fluidity to the interpretations we have to date of women workers in postwar museums.

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