Browse Exhibits (6 total)

Out of the Box: Depictions of American Women through Consumer Culture of the Early 20th Century


Facilitated by post-World War I economic prosperity in the 1920s, more Americans than ever had access to cash or credit to buy consumer goods. Middle-class women in particular bought goods to sustain a certain domestic image. This reflected a standardization of appearance for self and family. The limited access to credit, based on race and class, reduced participation for many Americans in consumer culture.

Women were targeted through multiple channels as the primary consumer, the one who purchases everything one might need to make a good impression in the home. Historically, consumerism in the 1920s refers to this middle class woman as a cog in the machine of capitalism, constantly being manipulated to buy things prescribed by distributors of desire. Consumption was marketed as an act of power and a means by which women could both produce and express themselves. Though consumerism standardized the majority of middle class women, it also gave them power. 20th century Social Historian, Ole Reinsch states, “These women’s hedonism is highly marked by consumption of mass industrial products, mass culture, mass media, consumption of urban nightlife and consumption of sexuality.

When Societies Collide: Radicalizing Wilmington's Black Youth

Page OG jpg.jpg

When Societies Collide is a public history project, supported by UNCW, that seeks to pair sequential art with historical narratives about desegregation and intergation in Wilmington to educate the public in an interactive way.

When Societies Collide investigates important moments of racial tension in Wilmington and presents that 1968 was an explosive year for African American students in Wilmington. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the slow progress to implement school desegregation, and the closing of “all-Black” Williston Senior High School (WSH) brought long-standing frustrations over racial inequality to the surface. Many young African Americans were deeply affected by these events which encouraged their involvement in the Black Power Movement.

Incorporated within the project is:

  • Two illustrated (Graphic Novel) oral histories on Dr. Hubert Eaton Sr., a community leader as well as a physician, and Mrs. Bertha B. Todd a Civil Rights activist that served as a librarian at "all- black" Williston Senior High School for 14 years.

  • Oral Histories from Mrs. Bertha B. Todd, Dr. Earl Sheridan (Former UNCW Political Science Department Chair and Professor at UNCW), and Mrs. Deborah Dicks Maxwell (President of the New Hanover County NAACP and District Director for the Walter B. White District of North Carolina NAACP). 

  • An exhibit that includes illustrated oral histories within a historical narrative. The exhibit will be displayed at UNCW in Morton Hall.


Wish You Were Here: A Look at the Role of Postcards in Local Advertising during the Great Depression

Surf at Wrightsville Beach.jpg

Flourishing in the Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930's is typically characterized by significant economic turmoil, yet tourism actually saw growth in employment due to President Roosevelt's encouragement for citizens to engage in recreation.  North Carolina Beaches drew folks in from all over the state, looking for fun, excitement, entertainment, and escape, without having to travel very far or spend exhorbitant amounts of cash.  Tourism guarenteed local employment and economic success, insulating Wrightsville and Carolina Beaches against the era's devastating effects.  Backed by an infusion of New Deal federal funds, investments to improve infrastructure and leisure activities ensured visitors an enjoyable experience. 

Communities increased their capacity for visitation through improved infrastructure, but how would visitors know of the enchantments awaiting their arrival.  Chamber of commerce combined forces with local businesses to provide advertising through a unique format, the 3"x5" postcard.  These collectible items featured iconography significant to the community - such as abundant fishing; bathing beauties; Lumina Pavilion dance and music venue; transportation by railway, bus, or automobile; and beautiful boarding houses such as Kitty Cottage, Oceanic, Bame Hotel, or Palais Royal.  Postcards provided a sense of excitement and fun through promises of escape to the beach.  Workers and families could forget the realities of the Great Depression and urban life along the sandy shore, while their spending ensured economic vitality and job security in an era typically characterized by financial devastation.

Controlling Birth: Contraception and the Politics of Public Health

Condoms3 copy.jpg

  BB coin.jpg        bf022896123781c61b936ae7a18c7051.jpg?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAI3ATG3OSQLO5HGKA&Expires=1643846400&Signature=0rDZ1skew2w94ikyFreCqvRzzTk%3D       4b4500a1722dbd07c9d131938d9632c1.jpg?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAI3ATG3OSQLO5HGKA&Expires=1643846400&Signature=47bDtCNx61%2BS609hjwGD9QNxiiE%3D

"Controlling Birth" excerpts more than 100 years of the history of voluntary contraception and forced sterilization. 

This virtual exhibit debuted as part of an event celebrating 100 years of women's suffrage in the United States. “She Rocks the Vote” was enabled by a grant from the State Library of North Carolina’s Institute of Museum and Library Services Diversity and Inclusion Mini-Grants program. Original plans for a live, in-person March event were derailed by COVID-19, but on September 17, 2020, the organizers of "She Rocks the Vote" livestreamed a keynote address by Rep. Deborah Butler and introduced this virtual exhibit. More details available at the William Madison Randall Library website

The virtual rendition of "Controlling Birth" highlights numerous artifacts awaiting public display in UNCW's Randall Library. This display is far from comprehensive. Its objects are intended to illustrate an important story of gender and race inequity in medical and reproductive health history. Today--and for the past half dozen decades or so--the oral pill has revolutionized women's reproductive choices, though the story of its testing and approval also underscores gender and racial inequalities in the United States (a story told by historian Elaine Tyler May). Intentionally, this exhibit concentrates on the equally revealing narratives of contraceptives other than birth control piils, while recognizing the Pill's importance. The history of birth control in America reflects the importance of a healthy, democratic polity, including full-throated participation at every level by women of every background. 


                            1921 lysol ad.jpg

Not Done Yet: School Desegregation in Wilmington, NC, 1968-Beyond


"Not Done Yet" explores the complicated process and legacy of desegregation in New Hanover County Schools 

Not Done Yet: School Desegregation in Wilmington, NC, 1968-Beyond is a public history capstone project with shared authority over the project with alumni of the Williston 9th Grade Center, 1971-1972. This project aims to tell their stories, along with those of the Wilmington Ten, in the larger context of desegregation in North Carolina.


Examining the years prior to the Civil Rights Movement and North Carolina’s response to Brown vs. Board of Education gives greater context to the eventful year of 1971 that would unfold in Wilmington. Given this background, the historic actions of student and youth protest from the Wilmington Ten demonstrate the frustrations over racial inequality and the upcoming changes to desegregation. Finally, by looking at the accounts of the Williston students, a greater understanding and significance can be placed on this time and the impact of the Williston 9th Grade Center as well as the process of desegregation across the United States, the South, and North Carolina. 


This project includes:


  • Five digital panels containing significant information regarding the history of desegregation, the Wilmington Ten, and the Williston 9th Grade Center, including a timeline of the events.

  • Oral histories from the Williston 9th Grade Center attendees.

  • The permanent installation of these panels in the present day Williston Middle School.

Through the Eye of a Needle: Working Women's Dress in the U.S., 1890-1920



Photo of employees of the Reliance Waist Co., 1910, Cornell University Kheel Center

Most people probably have memories of scraping together money to purchase the pair of shoes or outfit they have had their eye on. The rush of excitement of procuring this newest item was matched equally by the thrill of being able to wear it out for the first time. But what does it mean to the young woman—almost always a woman, past and present— who made the clothes? To the garment worker who spent most of her meager earnings to purchase what she made, clothing meant a lot. 

With the rise of industrial technologies in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, various industries began producing cheaper goods than ever before. In particular, the garment industry was able to start producing ready-made clothing in the newest styles that were affordable to the ever-expanding working class. Starting as early as the late 1860s, the garment industry began marketing directly to working-class women who were eager to emulate the styles of middle and upper-class ladies.

During this period, working-class interest in fashionable dress was not simply an act of vanity but served several purposes, especially among immigrant workers, for whom dress expressed both refined ladyhood and American assimilation. By the 1890s, the garment industry had evolved so much that ladies of all socioeconomic classes could afford the latest fashions, though they would be of different quality levels. The simplification of clothing patterns and the availability of home sewing machines also allowed working women to make or alter their clothing as needed. Fashion and dress were more accessible than ever before.

This exhibit will explore the key components of a working woman's wardrobe from the late 1880s to the early 1920s through extant examples from museum collections all over the United States. Through these examples, we will investigate how working women used clothing as a tool for liberation and self-expression in the industrial age.