Forgotten Women: Notorious and Notable

12/29/2010 07:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Gerit Quealy Journalist, A+E, previously columnist NBC's

It's the Decade of the Woman, said Marcia Reynolds here on The Huffington Post.

Of course, almost every year has been called the Year of the Woman for a while: 1992, 1994 and 2008, to name a few. So Reynolds is smart to skip to the next increment of time.

Probably the suffragettes thought it was the Year of the Woman in 1920, when they got the vote, or maybe even the Century of... How could they have possibly anticipated the 1950s as they marched triumphantly to the voting booths?

But in light of the increasing demographics and perhaps reflected in the increased visibility -- witness Tina Brown's Women in the World summit, the WIE Symposium, Maria Shriver's Women's Conference, to name a few (although a national Women History Museum is still held up in bizarre rhetoric) -- it may be true.

The Decade of the Woman could indeed contain the stories of the forgotten women of history -- ones who only mark a footnote, or not even. They may have been splashed across the equivalent of Access Hollywood in their heyday, but mention their names now and you get a barely audible, "Huh?"

So herewith, I present my fledgling foray into a long-held to desire to brush the dust off some stories and spotlight women whose 15 minutes of fame weren't quite met -- maybe they got 14, maybe only six or seven -- but whose stories are bright threads in the fabric of women's history that's generally packed away in some attic, treasured but never looked at.

Maybe, in this Decade of the Woman, the time is now.

I begin with the Museum of the City of New York's eclectic and intimate exhibit, co-presented with the National Jewelry Institute, called "Notorious & Notable: 20th Century Women of Style." Like many the women it contains, you'll need to reach out and grab it quickly before it evaporates on Jan. 2.

One nice thing about your clothes outliving you is that they rarely get catty comments after you're dead. They take on historical relevance. (Fashion sidenote: perhaps current clothing should be considered in context. The Next time you mother says, 'What the hell are you wearing?" tell her to imagine your outfit in a vintage store 25 years from now fetching a handsome price).

The fact is, clothing is as relevant as some shard of ceramic bowl or toe of a Grecian warrior, but it's rarely countenanced. As Tim Long, curator of the costume collection at the Chicago History Museum, articulated to me, it's what we live in every day. Question its relevance? You can always get a seat at a session on the banshee's funeral call at Renaissance Society of America conferences, but just try squeezing into a plenary session on the size of a Medici ruff.

Anchoring to our past ensures a more secure future.

Forgotten Women: Notorious & Notable

All images (with the exception of the image representing Clara Rockmore) are from the collection of the Museum of the City of New York.