Texas Connects Us: SMU Exhibit Highlights History’s Forgotten Female Voices

In a quiet corner on the Southern Methodist University campus sits a new exhibit that speaks volumes.

Fondren Library is currently home to hundreds of journals, letters and belongings from women who tackled the American wilderness.

Caroline Shimmel collected each item, starting back when few had interest in women's history.

"All the librarians and historians and dealers were men, and they didn't care what women did, so [the items] were cheap," Shimmel said.

Featured are well-known legends like Annie Oakley.

Shimmel acquired one of Oakley's traveling trunks, including a pair of gloves and postcards that showed proof of Oakley's talents.

"She had these envelopes printed up, and she would have somebody standing 30 yards away toss them up into the air, and she would shoot through the heart," Shimmel said. "That's extraordinary sharp-shooting."

Also on display is the personal branding iron belonging Henrietta King, the matriarch of the famous King Ranch. Visitors will see the pink boots belonging to cowgirl Dale Evans and the trekking pole used by the world's only female high-altitude archaeologist and climber, Constanza Ceruit.

But what Shimmel hopes will resonate most with people are the names you don't recognize and the stories of women left out of history books.

Shimmel points to her collection of articles on the first female bullfighters who were shunned by their male peers.

"They hit the glass ceiling and they quit," Shimmel said.

It is their stories Shimmel has been quietly collecting for decades and is proud to now put on display.

"It's the undervaluing of what women did throughout history. Ignoring the value that women participated in history," Shimmel said.

For SMU women's history professor Christa DeLuzio, the exhibit is as revealing as it is inspiring.

"It's very sobering to see all the ways in which women have struggled through several hardships and constraints," DeLuzio said. "But yet again and again, they rose to the occasion."

Shimmel hand-picked every item on display by using the title of her exhibit as her guide, "OK, I'll Do It Myself."

She said that attitude is what drove women to tackle new frontiers and blaze a trail for future generations.

"It set a tone that they could teach their children, 'Yes, you can do this, too,'" Shimmel said.

The collection is on display inside the Hillcrest Foundation Exhibit Hall in SMU's Fondren Library through March 28.

ONLINE: For more information on the collection, visit the SMU website.

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