Editor’s Note: In honor of California Admissions Day, September 9, we are pleased to let our readers in on some little known history of women in our state.
by Jennifer Moore (MA, 2016)
The Native Daughters of the Golden West’s (NDGW) collection of California history remains one of the best kept secrets in San Francisco. Founded in 1886 and housed in a 1928 building designed by San Francisco based architect Julia Morgan, the NDGW is a fraternal organization composed of women born in California which strives “to preserve California’s history and better the quality of life through active participation in education and community service” through civic participation and charitable works including commemorative markers at historic sites and celebrations, Mission restoration, scholarships, and genealogical research on early California pioneers.
The NDGW’s collection includes artifacts of California women and their families, including textiles, photographs, toys, documents and correspondence, jewelry, paintings, and books. The collection is enormous, filling the NDGW Home from the basement to the fourth floor.
My project is to inventory the entire collection. I am creating diagrams and lists of the contents of the hallways, public rooms, and individual display cases that identify where each object is located. At the end of the summer, I shall prepare a report assigning percentages to the objects in the collection (e.g. 20% dinnerware, 60% documents and correspondence, and 20% clothing), citing the strengths of how it has been stored/care for properly (e.g. display cases, UV UV glass), the weaknesses (e.g. unlocked display cases, direct sunlight, or heat registers), and recommendations on how to go forward including the hiring of professional consultants and engaging future interns.
This inventory will afford the NDGW a complete record of their collection, which the organization can use to professionalize its collections care. This professionalization will lead to the museum in the NDGW Home being more accessible to the public for viewing and educational opportunities. Because NDGW is focused on California’s history, they have a large and amazing collection that can be shared with those interested in the state’s history, as well as, women’s organizations. The inventory and “the information…compiled will be vitally important as the organization prepares to share its stories with the public” said Paulette Hennum, a curator with California State Parks. This inventory and information about the collection are among the first of many important steps that NDGW will take as they move forward with the professionalization of their museum.
Native Daughters has been a fascinating place to work. The objects in the NDGW Home’s collection numbers thousands that cover a broad span of California’s history and includes a little bit of everything. Visitors can see a 1901 menu from a dinner honoring President McKinley at San Francisco’s Palace Hotel, a Valencia lace summer dress from 1905, decades of photographs from parades celebrating California’s Admission Day, original correspondence between NDGW founder Lilly O. Reichling Dyer and 19th century notables; Victorian jewelry, and Charters marking the creation of Parlors (as the NDGW local chapters are called), by their founding members. Once NDGW is more aware of the extent and range of its collection, the possibilities for exhibitions are almost endless. Their collection lends itself to exhibits on parades, California Missions, fashion, and the cultural history of women in California.
While working with the NDGW’s collection, I have had the opportunity to learn about collections management. As there was no current, complete collection inventory when I began, I started from square one. I have been able to closely examine the collection by removing photographs and paintings from walls, examine jewelry from the display cases, and sort through early 20th century documents. Working with historical documents and artifacts is just as compelling as I hoped it would be. I am using the skills and knowledge from our Collections Management course in a real world setting. It has been so rewarding to use my education and feel like a true historian and a museum professional. I am using my schooling and my passion for history to make a difference for a special organization just a stone’s throw from USF. On top of this, I know that my education combined with the hands on collections management experience I am gaining from my work with NDGW’s collection will aid in my career as I move forward. I can now proudly say that I have helped NDGW and their museum in a significant way.
To learn more about University of San Francisco’s graduate Museum Studies program, click here.