Libraries exhibit focuses on women of UB

By Sue Wuetcher

Release Date: December 28, 2004 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Her name is perhaps one of the most widely known at the University at Buffalo. Who among us hasn't attended a meeting or some other function in the Jeannette Martin Room in Capen Hall?

But how many people at UB actually know who Jeannette Martin is?

Martin, the administrative assistant to four UB chancellors and presidents from 1922-69, is one of more than 80 UB women -- past and present -- featured in an exhibit, "Women's Work: A Tribute to the Women Who Make UB Work." The exhibit currently is on display in the Special Collections Reading Room in Capen Hall, as well as in several satellite locations in the University Libraries and in a special multi-media online component.

The exhibit, the brainchild of Jessica Tanny and Karen Walton Morse, both processing archivists in the University Archives, is designed to highlight the achievements of female faculty and staff members, and their contributions to UB over the past 100 years.

"In putting together this exhibit, we aimed to show the university community that women have been a significant part of UB's history from its earliest years," Tanny says. "We also wanted to highlight the important role that women have played in UB's history and raise awareness, particularly among women, that the work that they do is really important.

"We hope to encourage female faculty members to think about donating their papers to the Archives to help us document the women who are working at UB today," she adds.

Tanny notes that she and Morse came up with the idea for the exhibit after the Archives received the papers of Bernice Noble, professor of microbiology and immunology, and co-chair of the President's Task Force on Women at UB, who died in 2003.

They wanted to honor the important work Noble had done for the university, but felt that the material given to the Archives was typical of that received from faculty members—"it looked like they had dumped out her desk drawer," Tanny says. "It didn't represent her and all of her work." Moreover, there was not enough material to support an entire exhibit.

"We decided we could honor Bernice and her work by also honoring the contributions of women at UB more broadly," Morse says.

In choosing the women to feature in the exhibit, which is dedicated to Noble, the co-curators started with the Archives

"We wanted first and foremost to highlight women whose collections we already have in the Archives," Tanny says. "Then we looked at women who have won significant awards or done really groundbreaking work in their fields."

"We also looked for people who spent a lot of time at the university," Morse adds. "If someone had spent 30 or 40 years here, they were considered."

Tanny points out that they tried to make sure to include women from all the different areas of the university. "We chose women in the faculty, as well as those in administrative and support positions," she says.

The exhibit features the biographies of 87 prominent UB women and also explores such issues as women and the administration, women in sports and the evolution of women's studies on campus. The online component of the exhibit includes a timeline showing the presence of women on campus from the earliest days of the university.

Jeannette Martin, known to her colleagues as "Miss Martin," is one of the women featured in the exhibit. Jeannette Martin Navel served as administrative assistant to Chancellors Samuel P. Capen, T. Raymond McConnell and Clifford C. Furnas, as well as President Martin Meyerson, during a career that spanned 47 years. Her display case in the Special Collections Reading Room also includes the album given to her upon her retirement in 1969 that features photos of significant UB events and letters from well-wishers.

Among the other women featured in the display cases in the reading room are Lillias MacDonald, dean of women at UB from 1922-56, for whom MacDonald residence hall is named after, Marian E. White, an anthropology professor who dedicated her career to Western New York archaeology, and Susan Howe, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of English, College of Arts and Sciences, and an internationally acclaimed poet.

The satellite exhibit cases in the Libraries feature "location-appropriate" selections, the co-curators say. For example, Marjorie Girth and Virginia Leary, two former UB law professors, are featured in the exhibit in the Law Library, while the exhibit in the Health Sciences Library includes Norma Nowak of the Center for Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, and Juanita Hunter, professor emerita in the School of Nursing. The case in Lockwood Library covers women like Sarah Elder (Media Study), Jolene Rickard (Art History) and Janet Osteryoung (former faculty member in the Department of Chemistry), while the exhibit in the Undergraduate Library focuses on some of the younger faculty members—"up-and-comers in many different disciplines," Tanny and Morse say.

Morse notes that in addition to highlighting the achievements of UB women, the exhibit is intended to raise awareness of the Archives and the Special Collections. "At the Archives, we collect university records, but we also collect papers of individual faculty members and collections of local groups or individuals that enhance our university holdings," she says. "As a repository for Buffalo and Western New York women's history, we have the records of a number of local women's organizations, like the Zonta Club, which was founded in Buffalo, and the Pro-Choice Network of Western New York."

The main part of the exhibit in the Special Collections Reading Room, as well as the satellite display cases, will be on view through the end of January. The online component, at, will be on view indefinitely as part of the Archives' Web site.