This past April, we held a three-day national symposium to recognize, celebrate, and learn about the lasting and important impact women have had on historic preservation. Together the Smithsonian Institute and The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America coordinated this free event that featured dynamic discussions with more than fifty-three scholars, museum professionals, and everyday advocates in the field of preservation.

More than 1,800 individuals logged on to participate in the event, which like many events over the last year, was forced to pivot to a virtual format due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although it looked different than the in-person event that was originally conceptualized in 2016, the transition to an online format ultimately made the symposium accessible to even more people.

Participants joined in from the comfort of their own home and on their own time. Keynote speakers from the Smithsonian Institution; the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library; and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation at Monticello were cast to viewers across the United States. Over the course of the three days, symposium-goers accessed interviews and panel discussions with both up-and-coming and seasoned preservation professionals, some of whom were integral in launching the Great American Treasures initiative.

Former NSCDA President Anna Duff participated as a panelist on the symposium’s opening session, “HerStory in Preservation: Celebrating the women of the past and recognizing their contributions to the present.” Duff was acting president at the time NSCDA launched Great American Treasures 60+ museum sites around the country last spring.

In addition to the theme of women’s role in preservation, this year’s symposium also featured sessions that explored how to break down barriers to make the field of preservation more accessible to all; how to inspire an appreciation for preservation in others; and how to connect with the next generation of preservationists. In his keynote interview, the Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III appropriately remarked “This conference is really essential not just to a place like the Smithsonian, but to the field as a whole.”

NSCDA’s President Katherine Cammack, who oversaw the launch of Great American Treasures during her time as Chairman of the NSCDA’s National Museum Alliance Committee, shared that “it is inspiring and insightful to see our collective work to save the past be so well-recognized by the preservation field,” said Katherine Cammack. “We will benefit from the knowledge shared at this year’s Women in Preservation Symposium, and we look forward to participating in future like-minded events.”