Being Nancy Drew: My Apprenticeship on the 150 Years of Women Project

From URAP Mahathi Kandimalla, Public Health and History major.                                    Note from MK: Our Spring 2021 apprentice Mahathi Kandimalla, a sophomore, worked on the write-ups for the 150Women celebration research for the Berkeley Natural History Museums. The profiles are now available on our 150 Years of Women at Berkeley Natural History Museums website.

                                                                                                        Image Credit: Designed by Rakka on 05/16/2013; Modified by Mahathi Kandimalla

Whether it was perusing through biographies or looking up birthdays on online registries of gravestones, there was a certain excitement ascribed to my job as an apprentice at the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology. My main task consisted of writing articles for the 150 years of women project. While I always have had a passion for writing, I never thought I would come to enjoy going down rabbit holes while investigating the astounding women of the MVZ. I not only searched up the women’s histories, but I also went through numerous documents detailing the time frame and environment in which they worked. At times, the tidbits I found about the wages during the great depression or the price of asparagus did not fit into the overarching narrative provided in the articles. However, they immensely grew my knowledge and provided a deeper understanding of the lives these women were leading. It showed me that every bit of detail, no matter the importance or grandeur, deserved a closer inspection.

 One such investigation led me to connect with the City of Mill Valley Public Library. Several biographies written about Barbara Blanchard DeWolfe, a former student at the MVZ and professor at UCSB, indicated that she was from Mill Valley. Despite being younger than many of the other MVZ women, Barbara did not have many photos of herself on the internet. That led me to reach out to the historical center in Mill Valley to see if they had a high school yearbook from the year Barbara went to High School. I was referred to the Lucretia Little History Room at the Mill Valley Public Library. They provided me with accounts of costume parties held in celebration of Barbara’s accomplishments and other clippings detailing her academic and personal achievements. A search for a yearbook picture turned into an examination through multiple newspaper clippings accounting for Barbara’s entire life. While we could not include all the information from the newspapers in our write-up, the insights into her life showed her connection to her family and her tenacity for academic achievement.

                                                                                                                                              Image Credit: Lucretia Little History Room at the Mill Valley Public Library

 While some inquiries led to learning more about a person’s childhood or professional achievements, others shed light on the women’s work environment. Margaret Wythe, for example, worked as the inspector of foreign birds for the United States Bureau of Biological Survey. This factoid, when taken at the surface level, is not astonishing. However, a deeper look into the work environment and discriminatory practices affecting women during that era shed light on the determination and grit of Margaret. Therefore, it made me realize that facts are always represented better when put into the context of their time.

 Overall, learning more about the MVZ women through their biographies and various sources helped me pool together articles about them. They are courageous, bold, and intelligent women who deserve to have their stories told and celebrated. To encapsulate their greatness in an article required the constant digging through various resources as it provided a more holistic understanding of the women. Even if the information was not directly used, it helped me formulate a story that accurately represented the great MVZ women. They deserved a Nancy Drew to gather a narrative, and I tried to emulate that energy when exploring their lives.

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One Response to Being Nancy Drew: My Apprenticeship on the 150 Years of Women Project

  1. Delightful article. Since you are the author of the excellent 150 years of women at Berkeley Natural History Museums, your name is going on the piece in the 150w Archive. However, we need an official permission form signed by you to publish it. Please contact me, the compiler/editor of the 150w Archive going into the California Digital Archive.
    Many thanks–also for 2 great articles.

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