Each spring, Brooklyn Historical Society convenes a group of 15 – 20 high school students from various local high schools to research and interpret an element of Brooklyn history. Inspired by the Women’s Marches and the importance of education for their generation, the 2017 Brooklyn Historical Society Teen Council created an exhibition about Brooklyn women, past and present, who’ve been active catalysts for education and empowerment. The women featured in this exhibit, Wise Eyes: Still Woke, did not know one another, lived at different times, and in many ways represent very different worlds within Brooklyn. But to the Teen Council Members, their stories share vital elements that can inspire and galvanize the next generation: they fought for causes larger than themselves — from suffrage to black freedom to equity in higher education; they balanced their families and their careers; they showed courage in the face of imprisonment, violence, and harassment; and they put their personal talents to great use in the public sphere.
Given the relevance of Packer’s history to women’s and gender history and education equity, the Teen Council mined the Packer collection for images, stories, and ephemera to help them tell their story. They selected two Packer alumnae to feature directly in the exhibition. Mary Ingraham Bunting Smith (1910 – 1998) was an advocate and leader for women in higher education and the sciences in the second half of the twentieth century. As President of Radcliffe College, she founded a program designed to support women in higher education, later renamed the Bunting Institute in her honor. Lucy Burns (1978 – 1966) was a leader in the movement for woman suffrage and co-founder of the National Woman’s Party. She endured imprisonment and assault in the years leading up to the passage of the 19th amendment. Burns and Bunting Smith share the space with three other Brooklynites: Elsie Richardson, Esther Cooper Jackson, and Debbie Almontaser. The Teen Council named the exhibition, Wise Eyes: Still Woke because they felt each of the women’s lives offers a lesson in wisdom, and despite the social changes since they lived, each would still be considered woke today.
Wise Eyes: Still Woke was installed in Brooklyn Historical Society’s 2nd floor. On view May 31, 2017 – May 15, 2018.