Town On Fire Spring 2022

Welcome to Town On Fire 2022, an exploration of Hoosier and Muncie women’s history during the Gilded Age and Progressive Eras (1870-1900 and 1900-1929 CE).

In Fall 2020, students from Ball State University's Department of History celebrated the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment (1920) to the American Constitution by investigating the lives of six women who lived during the long campaign for woman suffrage. Working in teams, students from HIST 200-02 Introduction to History and Historical Methods created six short documentary videos. Archival sources provided indications of their life events and scholarly secondary sources contextualized those experiences amid the country's great changes. The results were surprising and exciting, leading to conference presentations and a second and third exhibit.

In Spring 2022 the Town On Fire exhibit returns to Gas Boom Muncie and its aftermath (1870-1920 CE) to investigate six women who grappled with the pressures of race and gender expectations. While Muncie was not officially segregated, the contemporary expectation that white women and black women lived in different cultural worlds resulted in social segregation, the criminalization of bi-racial marriage, and many lost opportunities for female solidarity. The six biography videos highlight how women encountered similar pressures to conform to feminine models of family- and community-focused caregivers in the period before they were voting citizens. Sometimes the social and economic pressure that women faced was too much and they buckled. At other times their achievements inspired their neighbors to join their initiatives.

With the discovery of natural gas in the late 1880s and the construction of many new factories in the 1890s, Muncie's population grew and women found new opportunities to work outside the home, develop social networks, and apply their education and skills in impactful and empowering ways. These biographies reminds us of the truth of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin's words: "We are justified in believing that the success of this movement for equality of the sexes means more progress towards equality of the races." Taken together we can see how race, class, and gender layered women's experiences, prompt intersectional discussions, and complicate our understanding of local and national expansion.

Feel free to move through the exhibition in order or explore at your own pace. 

Click “Introduction” to begin. 

This project was made in collaboration with the Delaware County Historical Society in Muncie, Indiana; the Ball State University History Department; the Ball State University Libraries; and the Notable Women of Muncie and Delaware County Project.

Banner Image Caption: Logo by Lacey Back Lantz, Notable Women of Muncie and Delaware County (2021). 

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