Telling Her Story: New Acquisitions

February 8, 2020–August 23, 2020

Every year the Albany Institute acquires hundreds of objects that relate to the arts, culture, and history of the upper Hudson Valley and Capital Region. To commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage in America in 2020, we are showcasing Telling Her Story: New Acquisitions presented by Bank of America, an exhibition of objects collected over the past four years that highlight women’s lives.

You will learn about Ann Eliza Bleecker who wrote poems about her life during the American Revolution, and about Ursula Garreau (Ursula of Switzerland®), an internationally known dress designer. A manual typewriter used by award-winning author and community activist Athena Vavuras Lord is displayed with the books she wrote for her four children about growing up in a Greek immigrant family in Albany and Cohoes. The exhibition also includes works of art by contemporary artists Susan Hoffer, Dana Matthews, Victoria Palermo, and Estelle Yarinsky.

One of our most outstanding recent acquisitions is the photograph albums, scrapbooks, diaries and alabaster bust of Albany-born Clara Harris Rathbone (1834-1883), which remained with her descendants until 2019. In the 1860s, when her father Ira Harris was a United States Senator, Clara enjoyed an active social life in Washington, D.C. Her scrapbooks included invitations, calling cards, tickets, theater programs, and correspondence. Today, Clara is famous because of one fateful night: she and her fiancé, Henry Rathbone, were guests of President Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln and were seated in their box at Ford’s Theatre the night the President was shot. Clara’s 1865 scrapbook includes annotated calling cards of physicians attending Lincoln. Perhaps the most poignant memento in the collection is her unfinished diary of 1883. Clara and her family were living in Germany when her husband Henry Rathbone murdered her on December 23rd of that year.

Another highlight among our recent acquisitions is the archive of Elaine Drooz (1925-1994). Known for her sparkling personality, sense of humor and style, Elaine collected in scrapbooks the articles, photographs, telegrams, and letters related to her work as Women’s Program Director at radio station WABY (“The Voice of Albany”). Her career exemplifies the improvisational character of local radio and television programming in her day. Beginning in 1948, Elaine was on the air with a variety of programs: For Ladies Only, Swap Shop, The Psychologist’s Notebook, Your Theater and Mine, The Bookmark, Mask and Wig, and Top o’ the Morning. She interviewed World War II heroes, authors, businessmen, and drama critics in the radio station on North Pearl Street and on location. She and her guests discussed topics as diverse as assisting European Displaced Persons after the war and the “Frigidinner,” “a new single unit frozen dinner” in compartmentalized aluminum trays. In 1950, she moved to station WROW. In 1951, Elaine married Robert Friedman but continued to use her maiden name professionally. She was a leader of the Albany chapters of Hadassah and B’nai B’rith Women.

Additional items highlight women and their connections to the region's medical and scientific fields, explore historic clothing, and even share examples of how paper receipts and personal letters can help us learn about women's lives in the past.

Exhibition Support

Leading support is provided by Bank of America.

Season exhibition and program support is provided by Phoebe Powell Bender, Mr. and Mrs. George R. Hearst III, Charles M. Liddle III, Lois and David Swawite, and the Charles L. Touhey Foundation, Inc.

Programmatic and exhibition support is made possible in part by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.