New exhibit purposely tells incomplete story of women’s history in Pittsburgh
A woman's placeHeinz History Center

New exhibit purposely tells incomplete story of women’s history in Pittsburgh

'There's so much more that's out there in the community, and the stories need to be brought to light.'

Photographs of local Jewish activist Bertha Rauh are included in the exhibit. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)
Photographs of local Jewish activist Bertha Rauh are included in the exhibit. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

A new exhibit hopes to showcase and continue an often-forgotten story. On display at the Senator John Heinz History Center now through Oct. 6, “A Woman’s Place: How Women Shaped Pittsburgh” explores the lives of regional changemakers and pioneers.

Through historic photographs, videos and other artifacts, the 10,000-square-foot exhibit promotes “women who have made a difference in our community and in our nation,” History Center President and CEO Andy Masich said. “Too often, the stories of women have been overlooked in the annals of history, but we hope to flip the script with this exhibition.”

Aiding the enterprise are more than 300 objects, images and documents from the History Center’s collection.

Membership directories and historic materials detail a rich history. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

Together, the pieces tell a “complicated” story,” Leslie Przybylek, senior curator, said. “Women’s history cannot be put into one or two small, neat little boxes … It’s not one thing. It’s not one role. It’s many roles.”

The exhibit features “barrier breakers and the people who really set milestones,” she added, but the stories of lesser-known individuals and groups are also told.

“I think our message throughout this is that as women fought and struggled and debated their own issues — things related to their needs, families, neighborhoods — they also often made this a better place for everyone,” Przybylek said.

Several Jewish women and groups are prominently displayed within the exhibit.

Of note, a large wall contains a quote from Bertha Rauh.

“It has been my belief always that the first place for every woman is the home. Motherhood is her noblest function, but I believe that that idea is carried to a false conclusion when we insist that her last place is the home. I believe that the home in modern life is no longer the place of four walls, but that it has stretched out until it articulates with every public function, whether that function be religious, social, philanthropic, charitable, industrial, economic, or civic,” Rauh told the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times in 1912.

The quote, which introduces exhibit attendees to a section exploring how women organized their own needs alongside communal demands, is telling, curator Emily Ruby said.

The early 1900s was a period when women like Rauh were out in the community “doing so much activism,” but those efforts often had to be couched in acceptable ways. With women primarily relegated to the role of homemaker or caregiver, Rauh cleverly crafted her efforts by saying, “I see the home as something beyond these four walls and just stretching it out into the community,” Ruby said.

Along with the quote and photographs of Rauh, other materials demonstrate the contributions of local Jewish women and groups.

Historic image from Children’s Aid Society of Jewish Women. (Photo by Adam Reinherz)

There are sculptures from Aaronel deRoy Gruber, the inauguration dress worn by Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff and organizational directories and cards  detailing a rich history.

Included on a wall shortly before the exhibit’s end is an illustrated can which has the words “We can, you can. Children’s Aid Society of Jewish Women,” as well as a notice for a one-day conference, scheduled on May 31, 1987, at Oakland  Women’s Center, hosted by “Daughters of Lilith: Affirming our Jewish and Lesbian identities.”

Women’s groups and organizations not only addressed communal needs but provided their members with agency and resources, History Center staff explained.

For generations, people have done a wonderful job detailing Pittsburgh’s industrial history; unfortunately, women’s contributions have “kind of been hidden or not brought to light,” Ruby said. “We really wanted this exhibit to expose all the ways women have been making Pittsburgh the place that it is today.”

One of the exhibit’s best features is that it doesn’t tell a complete story, she continued. “This is not the be-all and end-all. This is just kind of skimming the top,” Ruby said. “There’s so much more that’s out there in the community, and the stories need to be brought to light.”

Ruby and her colleagues hope that museum-goers reach out and share their own experiences — even items — that continue telling the story of women in Pittsburgh.

“There’s so many stories to be told,” Ruby said. “Help us tell those stories.” PJC

Those with materials that may help tell the story of women’s contributions are encouraged to email

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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