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Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods was on display in The History Center Exhibit Hall

July 2nd 2021-March 11th 2022. 

Virtual content will remain available at and through the #TompkinsWomen on Instagram & Facebook. 


Breaking Barriers: Women's Lives & Livelihoods explored the lives of women in public and private spheres across the centuries through six interactive exhibits: Haudenosaunee Influence on Women's Rights (Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation), The Overlooked History of Women Working (HistoryForge), Serial Style: The Business of Being Irene Castle (Wharton Studio Museum and Cornell Fashion + Textiles Collection), Like-Minded Neighbors: Women's Social Clubs and Organizations, and Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County. These exhibits connect visitors with the rich and varied lives of women in Tompkins County through exploration of the stories, artifacts, and community legacies they left behind.

In addition to five physical displays in our Exhibit Hall, we have also created two virtual exhibits Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County 100 +1 Years in the Making, and Sisters of Change: Unsung Sheroes for Racial Justice Whose Names Everyone Should Know, and a series of events exploring women's history in our region.

 Exhibit Hall Displays  Virtual Exhibits   Story Vault: Women's Voices #TompkinsWomen  |


Women continue to break glass ceilings and have continuously increased representation across communities. While we appreciate the obstacles they have overcome and the achievements women have made, it is important to look back and explore the stories of these women who have been overlooked. Breaking Barriers celebrates the lesser-known stories and lives of women in Tompkins County, told in their own words and voices where possible. From Haudenosaunee leaders and women's rights activists to wild entertainers and everyday workers in homes and businesses, the women featured here demonstrate that there are no limits to what women can do for themselves and their communities. With this exhibit, we hope to fill some of the gaps in our history, but even so, there are countless women whose lives and stories remain missing, unknown, or ignored. We are still learning how to honor the legacies of those who came before, as well as what it means and will mean to be a woman in a rapidly changing world. 

Breaking Barriers is merely the beginning of that conversation. 

The Haudenosaunee Influence on Women's Rights

The women’s rights movement did not begin with the Seneca Falls convention in 1848.  

Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) women have had a political voice in their six nations for 1,000 years while we in the United States recently celebrated 100 years of women voting protected in the Constitution. – Matilda Joslyn Gage Foundation, written by Sally Roesch Wagner

This exhibit is on loan from:

Serial Style: The Business of Being Irene Castle

Irene Castle (1893–1969) was already a style icon and famed dancer by the time she arrived in Ithaca to film the silent serial Patria in 1916. Castle used the silver screen as a promotional platform for numerous fashion industry collaborations and would eventually design her own brand of frocks. This installation explores the fashion and film-related livelihoods Castle created for herself during her time in Ithaca, 1916–1923, and is a collaboration between the Wharton Studio Museum and the Cornell Fashion + Textile Collection

Passage Through Time - 'OVERCOMING BARRIERS TO VOTE: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County—One-Hundred +1 Years in the Making'

Explore the history of the Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County through a walkable timeline housed in one of our renovated bank vault exhibits.

Story Vault: Women's Voices in Tompkins County Oral History Collection

The Women's Voices collection includes over 60 oral history interviews with women in our community. These interviews were recorded from 2008 to 2020 and include the voices of Jackie Melton Scott, Anna Kelles, Mimi Melegrito, Nancy Bereano, Katherine Karakantas, Yen Ospina, Martha Preston, Leslyn McBean Clairborne, Amy Somchanhmavong, Dr. Nia Nunn, Cory Foster, Elaan Greenfield, and many more phenomenal movers, shakers, thinkers, and creators of Tompkins County.

These interviews are available for listening in our Research Library by appointment, and selected clips have been added to the Story Vault exhibit in the Exhibit Hall.

Defying Convention: The Overlooked History of Women Working

Utilizing the tools of HistoryForge, we canexplore how gender, class, and race have impacted women’s opportunities. The untold stories of women as workers are as complex, varied, and engaging as the women themselves.

Like-Minded Neighbors: Women's Social Clubs and Organizations

Over 100 years ago, most Americans thought a woman’s place was in the home. As modern women pushed to break the barriers in politics, work, and professions, women’s social clubs and organizations became the major channel by which women could develop and use their organizational skills. From forming voluntary organizations to meet their community's needs to promoting social reforms at the local, state, and national level, these interest-driven women established connections with their peers to better enrich the lives and livelihoods of those in their communities.


Breaking Barriers Events:


In addition to the displays at our museum on the Ithaca Commons, we're excited to share two interactive virtual exhibits that can be accessed from home or any learning space. Each exhibit features artifacts and research from The History Center archives as well as audio components. Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County and Sisters of Change: Unsung Sheroes Whose Names Everyone Should Know.

Virtual Lesson Plan Link - Overcoming Barriers to Vote: Woman Suffrage Movement in Tompkins County: One Hundred + 1 Years in the Making

Virtual Lesson Plan link - Sisters of Change: Unsung Sheroes for Racial Justice Whose Names Everyone Should Know

FOLLOW ALONG AT #TompkinsWomen

Follow @TompkinsHistory on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and SoundCloud as we highlight stories of #TompkinsWomen who broke barriers, created industries, and raised communities.

Post your own stories of local women and use the hashtag #TompkinsWomen to join the conversation.


Thank you to our Community Sponsors for this exhibit. Please support these women-owned businesses in Tompkins County. 

adrinADietra is a luxury lingerie brand that strives to offer quality garments and accessories with a ready-to-wear and made-to-measure platform, small batch natural apothecary goods, and zero-waste products.

We presently offer various styles of bras, panties, harnesses, slips, chemises, gowns, camisoles, bar soaps, beard oils, massage candles, and more. Each garment and apothecary good is lovingly hand-made in Ithaca, NY, by owner Adrina Graham.

We also offer custom garment creations from either a standard base provided by us, or anything created from our client's most vivid imaginations, while keeping within our standard aesthetic.

Our collections, more often than not, combine inspirations from vintage and antique fashions, objects, and images, as well as charity works and activism in an attempt to make beauty apparent in unlikely places. Typically, the works are categorized into three branches of thought—deep {dark} desires, extravagant fantasies, and a merging of the two.

Hopshire Farm & Brewery is operated by Diane Gerhart and Randy Lacey as a family- owned business. We have combined our belief in New York agriculture, local foods, and great beer into a brewery that will use as many local ingredients as possible to produce high quality beers of several styles.

During the 19th century New York was the primary hop producer in America. Hops were grown on family farms in small plots. Beer is one of the oldest and most natural products humans have ever made. The process of brewing beer is simple and organic.

Our goal is to connect our customers with the ingredients in their beer and demonstrate the brewing process. Of course, our beers will use New York hops, but we also look for locally grown cherries, raspberries, honey, maple syrup and other ingredients to be featured in our beers. DRINK GLOBAL, BREW LOCAL.

The Lam Family is popularly known in Ithaca, New York, for Saigon Kitchen and Mr. and Mrs. Lam. As refugees, they immigrated from Vietnam in 1979 and opened their first restaurant in 1990 while raising their four children.

Today, their two daughters are teaming up to bring a delicious new venture—Hound and Mare, a cafe and bakery—to downtown Ithaca! Named after their Chinese zodiac animals, Tam (hound) and Christine (mare) is bringing a concept of fresh, healthy, and convenient feel-good food to share with everyone. 

Pickleball Mania embraces the strength, wisdom, and resilience that pulsed through my foremothers. Their ability to “keep on steppin” has allowed me, as a woman of color, to step into my future with invigorating enthusiasm and humility. As I walk through the doors of our pickleball facility, I feel their gentle nods of approval and encouraging smiles to “lift as we climb.” I teach community members, youth, and adults, how to BE together with the sport of pickleball. Everyone is welcome to join us at Pickleball Mania. Thank you to The History Center in Tompkins County, for allowing me to voice the words that often do not get spoken but speak loudly every day!

My name is Shana Seyfried Karn. I am the proud owner of both The Second Knob Gifts & Antiques and Shots by Shana Photography, 129 North St., Dryden, NY.   

While my love of photography and my desire to be a professional photographer was a serious career goal since I was in my teens, it wasn’t until much later that I found an interest in being a retail store owner. The Second Knob Gifts & Antiques was opened in 2011 as a partnership with my father, Andy Seyfried. We built our unique business based upon his impressive knowledge of antiques and collectibles, my desire to own a gift/home décor store and, of course, my love and knowledge of photography. When I lost my Dad unexpectedly in 2020, the general partnership was dissolved, and I moved forward as the Sole Proprietor/LLC. 

Our little store has been a part of the Dryden Community for ten years. It has been hard work, with a lot of mistakes made along the way but, thankfully, we have had many more successes than failures. Looking back, I know that I didn’t foresee the ties that would develop naturally between our store and the community, but it didn’t take long to realize the “collateral value” of a small business within our community.  Small businesses can be the backbone of a community. They bring a unique flavor. Not only do they impact the local economy (when people spend money with local, small businesses, a big chunk of that money stays local), but they can positively contribute to and become a vital part of the community.  

Physical Address

Located inside the Tompkins Center for History & Culture

110 North Tioga Street

(On the Ithaca Commons) 

Ithaca NY, 14850 USA

Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫˀ Territory


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