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Her Story: CGU preserves women's history

“Well-behaved women seldom make history.”–Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

While this quotation serves as inspiration for women to step outside the code of gender norms, Gina Messina-Dysert, the director of the Center for Women’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education (WIRE) at CGU, has a different idea about when and how women should make history.

That is why she started the Women’s Living History Project, which maintains that every woman—well-behaved or otherwise—has a story to tell.

“As we know, our history books are generally filled with the stories of men, and women’s stories are an afterthought,” Messina-Dysert said. “This project was founded with the belief that women play a crucial role in our history, and that needs to be acknowledged.”

The idea was spawned in response to a project launched by CGU’s Mormon Studies Council, directed by Claudia Bushman, who served as an adjunct professor during the 2007–2008 school year. Her project aimed to document Mormon women and the roles that they play in their religious tradition.

Messina-Dysert and Tammi Schneider, current dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, were discussing how important Bushman’s project is, when Schneider mentioned how she would love to see her own mother’s story documented.
At this suggestion, the Women’s Living History Project was born.

The project itself aims to both honor and expand the work of Bushman, and Messina-Dysert and Schneider recognized that religion would be a great place to start. Noting the success and importance of Bushman’s project, they thought it would be important to document women’s stories in all religious traditions. 

Every woman has a story—the motto of the Women’s Living History Project—and one that deserves to be told, is the driving force behind the work. In order to launch the project, Messina-Dysert created a graduate-level course designed to offer students experience in oral history. “The objective is to train students in oral history practice, which will prepare them to participate in the project, but also to complete research for their theses and dissertations,” Messina-Dysert said.

The first course took place in the fall of 2012, and 20 students each completed interviews with three women to add to the project database.

While Messina-Dysert is currently focusing on the role women play in their religious traditions, it will eventually expand to include all women’s stories, religious or otherwise. The interviews that are already completed are available online as a resource to scholars, historians, and anyone who is interested in the project.

“The project has great potential. As long as there are women’s stories that need to be told, I think the project will continue. The next step will be creating new categories and capturing the stories of women and their impact in our greater communities,” said Messina-Dysert.

Furthermore, the Women’s National History Museum has recognized the worth of this oral history. They have partnered with the Women’s Living History Project, and the interviews will be featured on their website. In October of last year, both organizations hosted a gala honoring Delores Huerta (civil rights activist and labor leader who co-founded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez) and helped raise funds for the project.

For more information about the Women’s Living History Project, or to contribute an oral history, visit www.cgu.edu/wlhp.

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