RIVERSIDE — As 2020 celebrates the centennial of womens’ right to vote, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is bringing a new exhibit to its galleries that honors women in the U.S. Air Force.
The exhibit, titled Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow, highlights the achievements of women in their civilian and military careers, with an emphasis on the U.S. Air Force and its predecessors. According to a release by the NMUSAF, the exhibit “covers historical issues; changes in laws and attitudes; and women’s contributions to the Air Force mission.” The exhibit is currently being installed in several galleries throughout the museum, and will be completed in early 2021.
Many of the displays contain one-of-a-kind artifacts used by women in the Air Force from many different eras, which allow visitors to better understand their story and experiences, according to Curator Krista Dunkman.
“This exhibit will feature over 60 artifacts that have never been seen on public display before, including space flown objects, unique uniform items, and even a concrete duck sculpture,” said Dunkman. “What I love about these artifacts is that in addition to showcasing the accomplishments of these women, they also speak to who they were as people and their immense dedication to serving the U.S. Air Force despite many challenges.”
The museum’s exhibits and curatorial staff recently finished installing the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in the Korean War Gallery, and the Significant Women Silhouette in the Southeast Asia Gallery. The Significant Women Silhouette introduces visitors to a variety of individuals who have made major breakthroughs and created new opportunities for women in the U.S. Air Force. This includes Sgt. Esther Blake, who was the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Air Force and opened the door for thousands of other women to follow.
By the end of October, museum staff will complete the installation of the Moving Toward Equality display in the Cold War Gallery, which illuminates the numerous policy changes required for women to serve equally alongside their male colleagues.
Other exhibits in the Cold War Gallery highlight women’s expanded role in aviation. One display tells the story of the first women to graduate from Undergraduate Pilot Training in 1977, and the first women to serve in aerial combat positions. The exhibit also highlights the breakthroughs of famed aviator Jacqueline Cochran, who created WASP, broke the sound barrier, and engaged in space exploration.
In the coming months, the museum will add additional displays, titled Women on the Edge, Women in Space, Women Leading the Way, Operation BABYLIFT, Building the Future, and Ambassadors in Blue.
Designing an exhibit of this magnitude was certainly a challenge, according to Design Specialist Luke Maynard, who led the team in designing the exhibit.
“This exhibit is unlike any other because the size and scope is so large with various elements throughout the museum, but it is also unique because the materials we chose and the colors we selected are highly symbolic,” said Maynard. “A good example can be seen in the Significant Women Silhouette display, which contains steel plating representing the tough walls these women had to break through and the doors that are now open for others to follow, and even the sunset/sunrise orange font, which signifies that the sun is setting on an old way of thinking and rising anew.”
According to Curator Jennifer Blankinship, telling the story of what women in the Air Force have overcome and their contributions to support the mission is a significant chapter in Air Force history, and by expanding the museum’s exhibits to better represent the role of women, the museum is able to better highlight how vital the contributions of each Airman is to the future of the Air Force.
“Courageous women have broken barriers in all walks of life and those in the Air Force are certainly no different,” said Blankinship. “It has always been important for us to tell the story of what women in the Air Force have accomplished, and it is my hope that this exhibit will inspire future generations to pursue their goals regardless of how difficult it might seem.”