A Mid-Semester Update on the Women’s History Garden Project

Image Source: The Civic Club of Harrisburg

by Alex Shehigian

As we move into the month of November, I’m pleased to be able to provide another update on the Women’s History Garden project.  

The project is off to an excellent start. Over the past two months, our team sought out information on and crafted brief biographies for three influential women from Harrisburg’s past: first president of the Civic Club of Harrisburg Gabriella C. Gilbert, leader of the City Beautiful movement Mira Lloyd Dock, and State Committeewoman Mary C. Stackpole. We then paired this group of women with three modern-day women chosen by the Civic Club to be honored: president of the PA Media Group Cate Barron, advocate for environmental justice Rafiyqa Muhammad, and current Civic Club president Contrena Baltimore.

Using the design platform Canva, we made informational signs for each of these women. The signs include each woman’s name, the years she lived, her biography, a photograph, and a QR code. This code links to a page on the Civic Club website that we will continue to develop in the next stage of the project.

This sign honoring Mira Lloyd Dock is one of six placed around the Women’s History Garden. Image Source: Alex Shehigian

On Sunday, October 30, the Civic Club hosted a “sneak preview” of the Women’s History Garden. Each of the signs we had created was in place around the garden. This event celebrated the contributions of each woman, past and present. The stories of the women of the past were presented by historian and president of the Civic Club Affiliates David Morrison. The present-day honorees were recognized with certificates acknowledging their impact on the Harrisburg community. At the conclusion of the event, attendees had the opportunity to tour the garden and were encouraged to return in March, when the grand opening of the garden is scheduled to occur.

Civic Club President Contrena Baltimore is honored at the “sneak preview.” Image Source: Alex Shehigian

Our team of Messiah students was encouraged by the positive reception the Women’s History Garden received at the “sneak preview.” Now, in collaboration with the Civic Club, we are moving forward with the second phase of this project. In addition to creating the signs for the garden, we will also record longer, more detailed versions of each woman’s story for visitors to listen to as they meander through the garden. At this stage in the process, our team is writing the audio stories for the historical women while the present-day women begin crafting their own stories. Our goal is to truly bring life to each woman honored, sharing with visitors the core aspects of her experience, her values, and her goals.

Next, we will work with Joyce Davis, the Director of Communications and Media for the Civic Club and Outreach and Opinion Editor for PennLive, to record these audio stories. After recording the stories, we will add them to the page on the Civic Club website connected to the QR code on the signs in the garden. This will complete the visitor experience in the Garden, blending text, images, and audio to tell the stories of these influential women of Harrisburg.

I will continue to provide updates on our work as we move into this next stage of our project.

Alex Shehigian is a sophomore at Messiah University. She is majoring in public history and minoring in the digital public humanities. She is also an Archives Office Assistant at the Messiah University Archives and volunteers with the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association archives. You can read more about her here.

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