Above: Magic City Council no. 221 Ancient United Knights and Daughters of Africa. Juvenile Department. Most Excellent Queen Mrs. Annie Shoecraft. May 29, 1926, Muncie, IN. Ball State University, Archives and Special Collections, The Other Side of Middletown Photographs, MSS.254, EF2-144.

It is hard to find images that epitomize gender, race or class. Nobody in 1900 took a photograph thinking: "This one shows the realities of a woman's life in the service industry." Instead they thought: "Let's celebrate our community on this special day when we are dressed in our finest." That was the case with the photograph above that shows the female members of Muncie's Ancient United Knights and Daughters of Africa. The women wear pristine white dresses and ribbons. A band is arrayed behind them and well-dressed (if bored) children sit in front of them. No one is cooking, cleaning, teaching, or selling. This photograph captures a staged event that was separate from daily life. Unfortuantely, why these women wore ribbons or why they were assembled has been forgotten.

Photographs from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tend to document groups of people at special moments, rather than in their daily lives. Notably, gender, race and class have an impact here. The photograph above is a rare gem, as photographs that do survive tend to illustrate the lives of men, white people, or wealthier individuals. Their experiences, as the best documented ones, often threatens to set the standard for all peoples' experiences.

This makes the historian's job difficult. As the Town On Fire exhibits show, there are fewer photographs that document women (and especially non-white women) in their daily work environments. We have no photographs showing Isabelle Leon Prince checking stock or account books at Leon's Famous store. We have no photographs of Belle Kelley greeting guests at the Pekin Hotel, or even a photograph of the hotel itself. We have no photographs of the Industrial School where Anna Truitt volunteered with working class women. Or the Colored Industrial School that was supported by Muncie's AME Church. Finally, there are no photographs of Grace Shoecraft Mabrey in her home or the shed out back, where her husband ran a blind tiger.

These absences prevent us from seeing the past in every detail. Instead they push us towards newspaper sources, which survive in abundance. The exhibit pages that follow use newspaper articles to establish chronologies, examine reputations, and evaluate contributions. Doing this takes more skill than using photographs and requires comparing articles to establish conversations that continue over time. Rarely did a newspaper reporter set out to illustrate the differences between white women and black women, or working women and professional wives. Yet, newspapers provide ample evidence of how Muncie newspaper readers (as an aggregate) thought about these groups.

All of the exhibit pages here use newspaper articles, along with other primary sources, to construct lives that still remain somewhat hidden. Often the woman's importance is revealed only in stages as the sources pile up. Sometimes her experience stays in shadow; a victim of lost sources. Nevertheless, as Sam Wineburg reminds us, historians persevere. We acknowledge the absences. We fill the gap with questions. We create an intertextual weave of the remaining sources. Out of that we recreate aspects of the past that stand in when other evidence of notable lives is lost.

Read on to see how gender, race, and class have shaped the lives of five more Notable Women of Muncie. They led vastly different lives, but their existence overlapped briefly in time, space, and in aspects of experience. Like a historian, think of their similarities and their differences as you move through the Town On Fire exhibit.