Within the Carnegie Museum of Natural History’s Botany Hall , there is a history that has yet to be fully explored and shown to the public: the critical role of women in the hall’s creation. This was a space within the Natural History Museum and a scientific discipline in which women completely dominated. In the early stages of this project, I thought bringing to light the work these women have contributed to the museum would be enough to tell this story. As I immersed myself in the museum’s archives and found documents that broadened the type of questions I was asking myself. The thoughts that challenged me throughout this project were about the museum’s accessibility to women during the different stages of botanical dioramas; was Botany Hall a space which simply allowed women to flourish, one that confined them to a subject that was considered “appropriate”, or one that was passed off as “women’s work”? How did botany become so accessible for women in the museum compared to other the scientific disciplines? Was the study of botany considered “women’s work”? Is the museum’s neglect of the space influenced by this notion?
These are the questions I considered when exploring the narratives of the women involved in both the creation and funding of this hall. It is my hope that by looking past the glass of the dioramas and rediscovering the contributions women made to the Botany Halls existence that I can find answers.
This book, and the work and research I have done for it, are a part of the University of Pittsburgh HAA Constellations project Dioramas in Context. As a team of graduate and undergraduate students, our aim is to reexamine Botany Hall to understand larger issues centering on museum practices and the exchange of scientific knowledge.