The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum is an IF/THEN Gender Equity Grant recipient. Twenty-six ASTC-member museums received funding to launch projects aimed at increasing the representation of women and gender minorities in STEM across their museums’ content. This grant program is supported by the IF/THEN Initiative, a national effort sponsored by Lyda Hill Philanthropies to inspire young girls to pursue STEM careers while creating a culture shift in how the world perceives women in STEM.
As the home of the Hughes Flying Boat, the world’s largest wooden airplane, the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum (EASM) in McMinnville, Oregon, has perpetuated a tradition of telling aviation and space history through a singular lens. With renewed scrutiny, blind spots of this storytelling method began to emerge. While home to many artifacts that benchmark aviation and space history, there is a lack of representation of women in EASM’s permanent exhibits. The stories exhibited in EASM focus almost exclusively on stories of men, especially white men, but the museum seeks to expand the scope of its storytelling in order to educate visitors on the roles women play in aviation history and to inspire young women to see themselves in the field.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that men outnumber women in pilot and flight engineer positions by more than 90%1. There is also literature that discusses how young women and girls identify with people that appear to be like them.2 As a first step in addressing this gap in representation in our permanent exhibits, EASM collected data using ASTC’s IF/THEN Gender Representation Toolkit. We discovered that 92% of the people shown in our exhibit panels were perceived as men, and only 8% were perceived as women (see figure 1). EASM seeks to utilize representation of strong, empowering women to close the gender gap in the science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) fields.
The IF/THEN® Gender Equity Grant-funded project is EASM’s foundational effort to incorporate the contributions of women to aviation and space technology in its permanent exhibits. The experiences of women aviators and astronauts hold a unique place in aerospace history and provide a varied perspective. Inspiring individuals like Jacqueline Cochran, one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation and the first woman to break the sound barrier, and Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, have earned representation alongside their male counterparts. In order to better address gender equity in its displays, EASM will use IF/THEN® grant funds to reach all visitors, regardless of gender, age, sexuality, race, and socio-economic status.
Focusing on four key figures, EASM starts its campaign to include more women and people of color in its permanent exhibits. These initial four figures include:
- Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean;
- Bessie Coleman, the first woman of African American and Native American descent to hold a pilot license;
- Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; and
- Mae Jemison, the first female African American astronaut.
Through a combination of images of these women doing STEM, details of why they are impressive, and proximity to their aircraft and spacecraft, we elevate the importance of their contributions. By permanently displaying the stories of STEM women who played key roles in aviation and space, we celebrate representation of women in our museum and inspire a narrative of equity.
1. Data USA: Aircraft pilots & Flight Engineers. Accessed 30 July 2019. https://datausa.io/profile/soc/aircraft-pilots-flight-engineers
2. Panetta, Karen and Williams, Katianne. Count girls in: empowering girls to combine any interests with STEM to open up a world of opportunity. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2018. Print.
This post was contributed by Lydia Heins, Curator & Collections Manager at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum.