One of my many work study jobs while a student at UC Berkeley took me under an old church within walking distance of the campus. I entered through the side and down old cracked steps that led under the building and into two tiny, creepy rooms with walls made of big stones that bulged out unevenly. A small sign identified the space as The Women’s History Research Center.
The story was that one day in 1969 Laura Murra was in history class and asked her professor why there were no stories of women. His alleged response was that he did not think the contributions of women would complete a book of even a hundred pages. She chose that day to change her name to Laura X, following in the footsteps of Malcolm X, shedding her lineage from the patriarchy.
She collected books written by women, about women, in the fields of science, art, politics, medicine, literature, maternal arts, and every other human action and then transferred them onto microfilm and microfiche. My job was to distribute the works according to requests which we received from universities in the United States as well as India, Africa, and Latin America. It turned out that the contributions of women filled books well beyond one hundred pages.
The collections are now stored in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, but the point remains. America’s history, because of cultural constraints about who could be published reflected work of male authors who told the story that they knew. Equally, in the early days of anthropology, male field workers wrote monographs depicting the customs they observed. Because they had only been included in the male activities, they were unable to answer the Laura X question: what did the women do? The inclusion of female field anthropologists offered more complete pictures of human societies. The person telling the story decides who the players are and judges the value of those players by their own yardstick.