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What makes history? UW Tacoma student Sophie Nop was tasked with answering that question for an exhibit marking the Washington State Historical Society's 125th anniversary.

(Photo above by Cody Char.)

At first glance the postcard seems innocuous.  An owl perched on a branch watches as four hens pass underneath.  The hens are dressed in bonnets, bloomers, and heels.  One of them is carrying a sign that reads “votes for women.”  The owl responds to the scene unfolding below him with “oh you suffragette.”  In the foreground a black bird – perhaps a crow – watches the hens with interest.This postcard was part of a larger anti-suffrage series called the "Cockerel Series."  Photo by Cody Char.

The postcard is part of the Washington State Historical Society’s collection.  UW Tacoma student government president Sophie Nop chose the piece for an exhibit marking the society’s 125th anniversary that will be housed in the Washington State Historical Museum.  “It spoke to me because of the Black Lives Matter movement and things that are happening around us that we don’t truly understand,” said Knop.

Nationally, women achieved the right to vote with ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920.  Washington State beat the federal government by 10 years, a point not lost on Nop.  “I decided to pick women’s suffrage because we kind of pioneered it.”

The idea for the exhibit came from discussions with the society’s Community Advisory Committee.  “Our CAC draws from individuals that are from the Tacoma-Pierce County area,” said WSHS Community Outreach Specialist Molly Wilmoth.  This initiative is part of a larger overall mission by the historical society to be a good neighbor to the area.  Other efforts include adding a range of voices to the museum’s displays and providing a better experience to patrons.

UW Tacoma Professor Dr. Lisa Hoffman is a part of the advisory committee.  When members were tasked with picking items for the exhibit Hoffman immediately knew she wanted a student do it.  “We don’t always need faculty and administration voices dominating the discussion.  It’s important to have diverse perspectives,” she said.

Nop chose the postcard and was asked to write a one-hundred word panel articulating its significance.  Service is important to Nop and the image of the owl struck a chord.  “You have to have your ears to the ground and work with the community to truly understand their needs.  If you’re perched in this comfortable distance it doesn’t affect you in the same way.”

Nop, who is originally from California, said the experience drew her closer to her adopted home.  “It made me feel more connected to Washington.”  Nop’s burgeoning interest in the area’s history is something Wilmoth hopes spreads to other UW Tacoma students.  The history museum currently hosts talks by faculty members.  The “Scholarly Selections” series includes discussions about historical and current issues. 

Nop sees parallels between the suffrage movement and the modern day struggle for equal rights. Photo by Cody Char.Wilmoth hopes by being more inclusive students will make the walk across the street.  “We’d like to see the museum become a third space where people can hang out and be around artifacts and history.  Have time between classes?  Why not come over to the museum and have an interesting dialogue with one of your classmates.”

The exhibit, “125 Years of Collecting and Connecting: Community Reflections,” is open through December 4, 2016.  If you're interested in local history make sure to watch this KING 5 story about the effort to restore some vintage posters.

The upcoming Scholarly Selections include:

Wednesday, March 17 “Oysters Making a Comeback” by UW Tacoma Associate Professor Dr. Bonnie Becker.

Thursday, April 21 “Singing for Tacoma” by UW Tacoma Lecturer Kim Davenport.

Thursday, May 19 “The Evolutionary Power of Stories” by UW Tacoma Lecturer Linda Nicole Blair.

Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / March 7, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or