"I'll Do It Myself"

"I'll Do It Myself" features narratives and memorabilia of women who faced massacres, famine and blizzards in the American wilderness.

DALLAS (SMU) – American women have a history of determined strength in spite of obstacles.  A new exhibit hosted by SMU's DeGolyer Library features narratives and memorabilia of women who faced massacres, famine and blizzards in the American wilderness.

"OK, I'll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness, Selections from the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection" opens Friday, Jan. 19, in the Hillcrest Foundation Exhibit Hall in SMU's Fondren Library, 6414 Robert S. Hyer Lane. The exhibit runs through March 28, 2018.

The branding iron used by Henrietta Chamberlain King on the King Ranch, sharpshooter Annie Oakley's traveling trunk and gloves, and singing cowgirl Dale Evans' pink cowboy boots are among the items displayed. The trekking pole used in 1999 by Constanza Ceruti, the world's only female high-altitude archaeologist and climber, recognizes women who continue to explore the American wilderness.

The exhibit also features 144 books, photographs and manuscripts by 101 women, dating from 1682 to 2015. Books include Florida settler Mary Godfrey's 1825 account of the "horrid massacre" of her entire family and newlywed Myra Eells' 1840 description of her first year in the Oregon Territory.  Other books in the exhibit were written to inspire young readers, like the 1911-1924 Ranch Girl series by Margaret Vandercook.

The exhibit complements the Western narrative collection at SMU's DeGolyer Library.

“At DeGolyer, we’ve been collecting women’s narratives, especially those from the Trans-Mississippi West, for as long as we’ve been in existence, first as a private collection and, since 1957, as a public institution," says Russell Martin, SMU Libraries associate dean for collections and director of DeGolyer Library. "Our Archives of Women of the Southwest, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, is one of our special collections with papers of women in business, education, the arts, private life and public service. 

The exhibit features a fraction of the 23,000 items Caroline Schimmel has collected for more than 45 years, avidly supported by her late husband, noted book collector Stuart B. Schimmel. A librarian and rare book archivist, Caroline Schimmel is drawn to wilderness women not because she envies their lives, but because she admires them.

"Long, long ago, during a rainstorm as I sat on the dirt in a pup-tent at Girl Scout summer camp in Philadelphia, I realized my own keenest desire while in the wilderness – was to not be there," Schimmel says. The exhibit includes the first Girl Scout handbook written in 1917 by the organization's founder, Juliette Gordon Low.

Schimmel began collecting narratives long before many collectors were interested in women's history. In women's stories of the wilderness she found both courage and desperation. "Things had to be pretty dreadful for women to leave and set out for the unknown," Schimmel says. "In the nearly half century of gathering stories of the women who leave hearth and home, I never cease to be amazed."

The exhibit presents a remarkable opportunity to learn about well-known and ordinary women, says Crista DeLuzio, SMU associate professor of history and a women's historian.

"From Caroline Schimmel’s extraordinary collection we can glean a fuller and deeper understanding not only of women’s lives but of many of the major developments that have shaped U.S. history, including the long (and ongoing) struggle for gender equality," she says. "These women’s stories stand as testaments to our remarkable human capacity to call forth the fortitude, resilience, ingenuity, and imagination it takes to fashion lives of dignity, meaning and purpose," she says.

The Hillcrest Exhibition Hall is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. For more information about the exhibit or to purchase an exhibit catalog, please call 214-768-3637 or visit smu.edu/cul/degolyer. Interested in more information about women in the wilderness? Schimmel recommends these fiction and nonfiction books (see list at right)


Media Contact:

Nancy George
214-768-7674 (office)
972-965-3769 (cell)