Conversation with Jennifer Herrera – Vice President, External Affairs, National Women’s History Museum (U.S.)

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Jennifer Herrera, M.A., vice president of external affairs, is the chief communications officer for the National Women’s History Museum, where she oversees all public affairs, marketing, and media relations efforts.

On August 26, 2020, the National Women’s History Museum will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with a full day of free programming and the launch of its new non-partisan voter engagement initiative, Women Vote, Women Win.  Programming includes  two virtual “Determined to Rise” panels, several film screenings, and a concert and rally to increase votes by and for women before the November election.

*Interview conducted on August 25, 2020.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: This is from the National Women’s History Museum. We’re going to be taking a programmatic perspective, an organizational perspective, on women’s history, women’s rights, in the United States. As many have noted, I am not original on this. This is a crucial moment in American rights history. What are some of the flagship programs of the National Women’s History Museum in regards to reminding individuals of the importance of fighting for women’s rights? In addition, how do you convey some of the histories of women’s rights to the next generations who are standing atop those rights? So, they may not understand the history of the rights or the time before the rights being established. 

Jennifer Herrera: We exist as a museum because, traditionally, have been left out of the history books. We know that so many women’s history, voices, and stories remain uncovered and unshared. So, we feel a great responsibility to bring these stories to the light of day. That’s our responsibility as an institution. We do this through programming and events and providing resources to learners of all ages. So, that way, they can take away a broader and more complete understanding of history that includes the many contributions and accomplishments of the women who helped write it.  In terms of conveying to the next generation, history is now. History is the past, but it is also the present. It is looking at history with the imperative lens of, not only uncovering the voices of the past but, also documenting the stories as we go. So, that way, in the future, we don’t have to construct the stories in hindsight. We have narratives. We know what the many accomplishments of women are. That’s our charge. We want to make sure that historic stories and contemporary stories are being told, so women are not left behind. 

We do this through a lot of programming and events. For example, a few months ago, we launched the project, in the wake of the pandemic, called “Women Writing History.” The coronavirus journaling project, we asked women to share their experiences with us – of living through Covid-19. We asked them to do that in a variety of ways. We talk about the concept of journaling. What is journaling? It is not writing in a physical journal; it could be keeping an online diary, photographs, art, videos, iPhone recordings, and so on. Any way we can get women to document their experiences. We wanted them to do for this project. We asked women to journal in whatever way fits their preferences. To date, we have over 900 women to participate in this coronavirus journal project. Since we have asked them to submit physical copies or electronic copies for 30, 60, 90 days, or more, we are starting to collect the submissions from over the last several months. Because women want their voices heard. They don’t want to be left out of the Covid-19 story.

Jacobsen: Now, with the previous election in the United States and the current Trump Administration, following it, there was a very rapid series of forms of activism on the parts of men and women for women’s rights. How does the history look in the United States? Is this a common theme? A theme where there is either a representative, a movement, or a change in the legal structure that would either threaten or pull back the women’s rights gains in the United States, then there is a massive or a reasonably large pushback to re-instantiate and further some of the progress for women’s rights in the United States? Is this a common theme? 

Herrera: Yes, time and time again, we have seen women at the forefront of social change. Often, they are under-represented in the narrative about the change. As a museum dedicated to the representation of women, it is really exciting to us to see such historic progress being made in terms of the representation of women across all political spectrums, across all levels of government. Women stepping off the sidelines and engaging in politics in whatever form. It is exciting to see women are working to support other women. They are creating organizations to ensure women can run for office and ensuring women can be elected to office. I am not sure if that answers the question. Women continue to be at the forefront of social change. We saw historic levels of participation in 2016, in 2018. Again, we see it this year, where so many women are running for office and breaking the barriers that still have yet to be broken, fighting to break these barriers.

Jacobsen: What is the importance of the recent news about Kamala Harris in the United States?

Herrera: Kamala continues to break barriers. So, the significance is how truly incredible it is – to have a woman running on a major party ticket. It speaks to women running at all levels of government. The urgency and the need to have this representation in the highest levels of government. It is historic. She is the first black woman and first Asian-American woman to run for Vice-President on a major party ticket. That is groundbreaking. That shouldn’t be a one-off. It should be every year. We continue to see women represented at the highest levels of government, whether a gubernatorial race or even on the down-ballot races. Women continue to be under-represented in politics. But we are making change, progress has been made. Kamala’s inclusion on this ticket speaks volumes because it is another place where women have made progress. What we hope to see moving forward, women are included on other tickets. This representation should happen in every election.

Jacobsen: We should cover something, which I received this morning. It is a new initiative coming out of the National Women’s History Museum. It is called “Women Vote, Women Win.” What was the inspiration for the initiative or the ways people can attend?

Herrera: On the 26th of August, it is the celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. It is a pivotal moment in American history and women’s history. We recognized, for so many women, the fight continues, so many women of colour, Native American women, Asian American women, black women, Hispanic women. It is really important to highlight all of the women who worked so hard for the right to vote. Not just up until 1920, but beyond, there were so many women involved in this fight. The history routinely covers very few of them. It was the inspiration for how we celebrate the centennial and recognizing that this fight was so extensive and continues today with voting rights. We need to make sure. What better way to honour all of the women who fought bravely for the right of women to vote than asking women today to become active, engaged citizens in democracy by voting themselves? So, we really wanted to recognize the hard work and the tremendous sacrifices women have made for the right to vote by encouraging participation in this fundamental right. 

Jacobsen: If we are looking at the election and after the election coming up, on the assumption that it runs, what are some of the plans for initiatives, events, after that point – forms of activism after that election?

Herrera: In terms of the initiatives, we’re doing. So, we’re in the middle of planning right now. Our focus is to ensure there is a greater representation of women and women’s stories heard, included in the history books, as we continue to write history today. How are these stories and narratives shared? What we plan to do after the election, it is still coming together, as you can imagine. The pandemic has changed a lot of things that we were planning on doing in person. It has opened up a lot of possibilities in terms of the content. We continue to deliver, virtually. We are going to continue to mark the centennial, the ratification of the 19th Amendment with more programming, e.g. “Determined to Rise” series, additional panel discussion, additional publications, and sharing the content from the panel discussions that we’ve already had before. We’re looking to explore opportunities with women, trail-blazing women, as they related to their work primarily in politics, advocacy work. The next issue of our magazine will look at women and the pandemic to share the stories of women on the front lines and explore how women are being disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Our late Fall issue/early Winter issue, will come out in December is about the centennial and the fantastic organizations, which exist to support women running for public office and holding elected office. We are continuing to develop content and programming that really shows the power of women voting, shows the power of women engaging in the political process at all levels of government. It is the power of what happens when a woman steps off the sidelines and decides to become engaged.

Jacobsen: Jennifer, thank you so much for your time today.

Herrera: Thank you, Scott, I really appreciate it.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-booksfree or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.

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Image Credit: National Women’s History Museum/Jennifer Herrera.

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