The newest exhibit at the Harbor History Museum has a personal connection for many Gig Harbor residents.
This personal connection lies in the exhibit’s donated items, which are the clothes, accessories and other articles of daily life that belong to past female relatives.
Called “50 Years of Fitting in: Fashion, History and Women from 1890 to 1940,” the exhibit showcases the changing fashions that women wore during the early 20th century and highlights influential women in Gig Harbor and the nation.
The decision to expand the scope of the exhibit beyond Gig Harbor was a natural result once exhibit curator Joann Hale realized how expansive her subject matter was.
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“We were going to stay with Gig Harbor but it snowballed,” Hale said. “There’s so many women who’ve done so many things.”
All the clothing is from the area, either from the Museum’s collections or the community. It’s really become a collaborative effort between the community and the Museum.
Joann Hale, exhibit curator
While the exhibit contains photos and brief biographies of nationally famous women in that era, Hale made sure to include influential Gig Harbor women including such local historical figures as Lucy Goodman, Theresa Sweeney and Elsie Claussan.
“All the clothing is from the area, either from the museum’s collections or the community,” Hale said. “It’s really become a collaborative effort between the community and the museum.”
The exhibit features a range of clothing that covers every aspect of women’s lives; from Jantzen swimsuits to house dresses, a wedding dress, mourning attire and a schoolteacher outfit. While some of the items — from clothing to artifacts — come from the museum’s collection, many of the items have been found among the possessions of Gig Harbor residents.
This is where Leann O’Neill’s exhibit donation originated, within her personal family heirlooms.
I went through my older stuff at home and brought it in. I just try to imagine what life was like for these women and what their stories were.
Leann O’Neill, museum volunteer
“I went through my older stuff at home and brought it in,” O’Neill said. “I just try to imagine what life was like for these women and what their stories were.”
A museum volunteer and the “school marm” for the museum’s Midway Schoolhouse, O’Neill donated the graduation dresses of her great-aunt and grandmother, which date to the late 1920s, for use in the exhibit.
“I haven’t played dress-up since I was a little girl,” O’Neill said. “It’s been really fun. I was excited local women were featured.”
For Hale, this personal connection is one of the goals she was striving for with the exhibit.
“We try to make it personal for the community so they get to see the things they donated,” she said.
We try to make it personal for the community so they get to see the things they donated.
Along with dresses, clothing mannequins are scattered throughout the exhibit, and volunteers have collected hats, bags, gloves, household items and even an Ostrich feather boa from O’Neill’s grandmother.
“It’s been wonderful with everyone helping out,” Hale said.
O’Neill agreed: “I just try to imagine what life was like for these women and what their stories were.”
“50 Years of Fitting In” opens Friday (April 15) for a members-only preview and then to the public on Saturday (April 16), and will remain open through July 17.
The Harbor History Museum, located at 4121 Harborview Drive, can be reached at 253-858-6722 or online at harborhistorymuseum.org.