The historian's task is to shape a research question, uncover sources that promise to answer it, and analyze the resulting material. But this implies those sources exist. In the case of the history of women in Las Vegas that was not so.
The young age of the city and its university contributed to a lack of archival sources. As did a general underappreciation of the history of everyday people. I embarked on a path to build those sources 20-some years ago at the urging of students and with the help of colleagues.
Many might challenge: Why bother? After all, just because a hole in our knowledge exists doesn't mean that filling it will offer value. What difference does it make to understand the experiences of diverse groups of women?
Here are a few answers. The mobility of Americans helped fuel the city's population growth, and that included women. By mid-20th century, they tool were coming here for employment opportunities. Some were involved in the war industries while others came for the jobs in the booming hotel-casino industries. In the context of overt employment segregation by race and sex that continued well through the 1970s, some women selected work that gave them greater flexibility to combine work and family by starting their own businesses. Other women joined the political process, both formal and informal, to achieve greater rights on the grounds of race and sex. In both employment and politics, women were not only in line with national trends, but at the forefront.
I published these findings in articles and my most recent book, Changing the Game: Women at Work in Las Vegas, 1940-1990. Yet, the information needed an outlet for a wider audience. Two community advisors of the Women's Research Institute of Nevada at UNLV, Deborah Campbell and Lorri Jackson, worked with me to form a collaboration with Vegas PBS.
The result is MAKERS: Women in Nevada History, a three-part series that captures women's advancement in the state over the past 100 years. Nothing this comprehensive had existed. Next, we plan to build educational resources for the Clark County School District, which will finally begin to bring women into Nevada's formal history. As with all new knowledge, a fuller history may change how we understand our own history. And we can begin to see how and why the experiences of women in this Valley differ from women across the U.S.
Still not convinced? Give MAKERS a shot and see if it doesn't add depth in some way to your own understanding of our community.
Watch online at any time or tune into the Vegas PBS broadcasts:
- Vegas PBS Channel 10: Starting March 19 at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays; 12:30 a.m. Fridays; and 4 p.m. Saturdays.
- Vegas PBS Jackpot! Channel: Starting March 21 at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays.
- Vegas PBS Rewind Channel: Starting March 21 at 4 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays.