LOS ANGELES — “At the heart of every archive is a story.”

That's the motto of a new exhibition at the Autry Museum. Originally planned in 2020 to commemorate the 100th year of women's voting rights, "What's Her Story?" has come together this year at the Autry Museum just as the prospect of museums reopening might be around the corner.

What You Need To Know

  • The Autry Museum's new exhibition "What's Her Story" was originally planned for 2020 but stalled until 2021 by the pandemic

  • Curator Liza Posas assembled materials from the Autry Museum’s archives that tell the stories of the women who shaped SoCal and the West

  • The exhibition also shows how curators make these stories accessible to the public

  • The exhibition is accessible online until the museum can safely reopen

Archivist and curator Liza Posas brought together a diverse range of materials from the museum's archives to help tell the often unheard stories of the women who helped build Southern California and the West.

As Posas explained, the exhibition looks at "everyday people, as well as those that were sort of the visionaries that built new things."

Like a trip through time, the combination of photos, documents, and ephemera highlights the efforts of figures like Carolyn Boeing Poole, who used her wealth to explore and document the West. Posas explained that as curator, her challenge was to take these materials and create a narrative through line that reaches us today. 

"You're not just looking at things in a box, right — like, 'Oh, this happened in 1905, 1910, 1920.' And they're not siloed, but you're actually looking at the through line, how one thing turned into another turn it into the other, but then also how it relates to who you are today," said Posas.

Another of the exhibition's extraordinary figures is Manuela Garcia, who sang over one hundred Spanish language folk songs for journalist and historical preservationist Charles Lummis in the early 1900s. The songs were catalogued and recorded onto wax cylinders and make up a collection called "Spanish Songs from Old California."

Also featured is Bertha Parker Cody, one of the first female Native American archaeologists. Known as Mrs. Iron Eyes Cody, her work was highly skilled, which she completed without a university education.

Plus, a recently produced Bertha Parker Cody-inspired tarot card deck "shows us how contemporary action is influenced by history," as Posas explained.

Rounding off the exhibit is a wall of posters from the Women's March, which started in 2017 and "adds to the idea that history happens all the time," Posas added. 

And what about those private archives we all carry around with us today — our smart phones. Posas pointed to the section devoted to experiences during the pandemic that were captured by everyday Angelenos. 

"Maybe they don't call it an archive, but they'll be like, 'Oh yeah, I kept this ticket stub because it's the last concert I ever saw before lockdown,'" she said.

"What's Her Story?" will continue into the summertime. Although the Autry Museum remains closed for now, the exhibition can be accessed online until the museum can safely reopen.