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OK, I'll Do It Myself

Narratives of intrepid Women in the American Wilderness
Selections from the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness
  • Conference
  • Performance
Wild West show featuring woman with lasso
The ninety-six page, full-color, revised, second edition of the exhibition catalogue is available for purchase.

On exhibit August 23 - November 11, 2018

This exhibition's selection of one hundred and forty-five books, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia by one hundred and one women and one man, dating from 1682 to 2015, reflect the sweep of women's experiences in the American wilderness. They range from Metamorphosis insectorum Surinamensium (1705), Maria Sibylla Merian's monumental study of the flora and fauna of Surinam, hand-printed and probably hand-colored by her, to sharpshooter and entertainer Annie Oakley's travel trunk and gloves, and a souvenir envelope with a one-inch red heart through which she shot from a distance of twenty feet.

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the School of Library Service at Columbia University, Caroline Schimmel has gathered almost 24,000 narratives and representations of women in the American wilderness—from North Pole to South—over the past forty-five years. The fiction component of her collection, apart from items in this exhibition, was donated to Penn in 2014. She continues to seek and document these known and unknown intrepid women, in both fact and fiction.

And remember, "Anonymous" is most likely a woman.

Installation views of OK, I'll Do It Myself

September 6-7, 2018

Women's Voices from American Frontiers

Women's Voices from American Frontiers

This conference will explore some of the many women's voices in Ok, I'll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness, an exhibition highlighting selections from the Caroline F. Schimmel Collection of Women in the American Wilderness. The keynote speaker on Thursday evening will be Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Harvard). Speakers for Friday's conference include Suzanne Bordelon (San Diego State), Joan DeJean (Penn), Tina Gianquitto (Colorado School of Mines), Ellen Handy (CCNY, CUNY), Melissa Homestead (Nebraska), Elizabeth Hutchinson (Barnard), Renée Laegreid (Wyoming), William Wierzbowski (Penn), Lucy Fowler Williams (Penn), and David Wrobel (Oklahoma). A roundtable discussion with Caroline Schimmel, Cathleen Cahill (Penn State University), Katharine Hunter (Daniel Crouch Rare Books; Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla), and Regan Kladstrup (Penn) will conclude the conference.

Conference co-sponsors: We gratefully acknowledge the support of the University of Pennsylvania Department of English, Department of History, Department of the History of Art, and The Alice Paul Center.

  • Thursday, September 6

    4:00pm: Tour of Exhibition by Caroline Schimmel

    5:30 pm: Exhibition and Conference Opening

    Welcome: Constantia Constantinou (H. Carton Rogers III Vice Provost and Director of the Penn Libraries)
    Introduction: Regan Kladstrup (Penn Libraries)

    Keynote speaker: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (Harvard University)
    "Into the Wilderness with Women: Some Personal Reflections"

    6:30-8pm Opening Reception
  • Friday, September 7

    9:00-9:30 am: Registration

    9:30-10:30 am: Welcome and Session 1: Revising Frontiers

    Welcome: Will Noel (Director, Kislak Center, Penn Libraries)
    Chair: Lynne Farrington (Penn Libraries)
    David M. Wrobel (University of Oklahoma), "The Global West that Women Made: Learning from Ida Pfeiffer, Isabella Bird, and Mary Kingsley"
    Ellen Handy (City College of New York/CUNY), "Where Does the Frontier Begin? Doris Ulmann and Julia Peterkin's Roll, Jordan, Roll"

    10:30-11:00 am: Coffee break

    11:00 am-12:00 pm: Session 2: Cowgirls, not Cowboys

    Chair: Nancy Bentley (University of Pennsylvania)
    Melissa Homestead (University of Nebraska), "Willa Cather and Edith Lewis Playing Cowboy in the American Southwest"
    Renée Laegreid (University of Wyoming), "Every Cowgirl needs a Horse--and a Gun and a Little Whiskey Helps, Too"

    12:00-1:00 pm: Session 3: Native Women, Native Objects

    Chair: Mitch Fraas (Penn Libraries)
    William Wierzbowski (Penn Museum), "Earth Woman, the Kipp Connection"
    Lucy Fowler Williams (Penn Museum), "Teri Rofkar: Weaving the Spirit of Alaska"

    1:00-2:00 pm: Lunch (on your own)

    2:00-2:30pm: Pop-up exhibition from the Caroline Schimmel Fiction Collection and discussion, Henry Charles Lea Library

    2:30-3:30pm: Session 4: Corresponding Women

    Chair: Kathy Peiss (University of Pennsylvania)
    Suzanne Bordelon (San Diego State University), "Private Letters for Public Audiences: The Complexities of Ethos in Louise Clappe's The Shirley Letters from the California Mines, 1851-1852"
    Tina Gianquitto (Colorado School of Mines), "'Off alone on my tramps': On the Trail of Women Botanists in the Frontier West"

    3:30-4:00 pm: Coffee break

    4:00-5:00 pm: Session 5: Frontiers New, and Under Review

    Chair: John Pollack (Penn Libraries)
    Joan DeJean (University of Pennsylvania), "Marie Baron: Transported Convict, Captive, Historian"
    Elizabeth Hutchinson (Barnard), "Nora Naranjo-Morse's Numbe Whageh: a Counter-monument to the Pioneer Experience"

    5:00-6:00pm: Conference Roundtable and Concluding Remarks

    Moderator: Will Noel
    Participants: Cathleen Cahill (Penn State University), Katharine Hunter (Daniel Crouch Rare Books; Map & Atlas Museum of La Jolla), Regan Kladstrup, Caroline Schimmel

Zora Neale Hurston, 1938
Carl Van Vechten,
Portrait of Zora Neale Hurston, 1938.
Library of Congress Collection
Performance: Thursday, October 4, 2018, at 7:30-9:00pm

Zora Returns to Harlem

Join us for a one-woman show about the life of acclaimed novelist Zora Neale Hurston, performed by Antoniá Badón. This one-woman play captures the story of the Harlem Renaissance through the life of Hurston, often labeled as one of the most gifted and prolific writers of the early twentieth century. Novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist, Hurston has been celebrated as a genius of the South. From a small town in Florida to Howard University and on to New York, her life embodies the zeal, determination, and brilliance of the black Americans who succeeded in creating a vibrant literary movement energized by racial struggles and multiple cultural identities.

Adapted and enacted by NAACP award winner Antoniá Badón, the play has received "flawless," "sparkling," "soul-tingling" reviews and Penn is delighted to present it for this one-night only performance in conjunction with the Penn Libraries current exhibit, OK, I'll Do It Myself: Narratives of Intrepid Women in the American Wilderness. The exhibition will be open for extended hours, with a tour led by curator and collector Caroline Schimmel, prior to the performance.


Conference accommodation

Sheraton Philadelphia University City Hotel
3549 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
(3 blocks from Van Pelt Library)
The group rate is available until August 6, 2018.
The Study at University City
20 S. 33rd Street (corner of 33rd and Chestnut)
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Guests can access this site to book, modify, or cancel a reservation from April 11, 2018 to August 7, 2018.