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‘Saving Washington’ exhibit at the New-York Historical Society highlights early U.S. women

The New-York Historical Society's

The New-York Historical Society's "Saving Washington" exhibit includes artifacts such as a dress belonging to Dolly Madison. Photo Credit: Charles Eckert

The best-known figures of the American Revolutionary Era disagreed on many things, but they had one key attribute in common: They were all men.

An exhibit opening on International Women’s Day Wednesday at the New-York Historical Society aims to provide a more complete picture of the heroes of the country’s earliest years.

“A lot of history books focused on the founding fathers, and the women were left in the margins,” said Valerie Paley, the curator of the “Saving Washington” exhibit. “We hope to change that.”

The 1,500-square-foot showcase includes 150 objects such as diaries, housewares and clothing, from women who lived between the Revolutionary War to the mid 19th century. It includes interactive elements that offer biographies and anecdotes of individuals from a variety of racial and social classes.

The exhibit’s main focus is on first lady Dolly Madison, who Paley considers the first caretaker of the White House, due to her weekly “Wednesday Night Squeezes” at the mansion. Visitors can take part in a mock version of the dinner party, complete with interactive games recreating the political meetings that went on during the festivities.

“The idea is to learn how politicking and civility worked at the dining table of the President’s House,” Paley said.

The exhibit, which runs until the end of July, will be the first for the NYHS’s Center for Women History, which fully opens in April. Next month, the rest of the center, which occupies the fourth floor of the building on Central Park West, will open with an exhibit that features Tiffany lamps from the turn of the 20thcentury and the women who designed them.

Paley said her team is hard at work on future exhibits, including one later this year that will celebrate the centennial of New York’s decision that gave women the right to vote.

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