The West County Museum is highlighting local trailblazers with its new “Extraordinary Local Women” exhibit. The exhibit includes information about local women who were the first women to do what they did, from the first female Sebastopol mayor to the first Sebastopol Times editor to the first woman to vote in Sonoma County. The exhibit opens on Thursday, Dec. 5, and has a grand opening on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Though the exhibit is being put on by Western Sonoma County Historical Society in the West County Museum, it’s been a collaboration of efforts from history centers throughout the county. The exhibit includes contributions from Bodega Bay, Cotati, Geyserville, Healdsburg, Petaluma, Guerneville, Sebastopol and Windsor, including notable women from Santa Rosa.
“It’s kind of like a new feeling that all of our museums have … we’re networking really well and supporting each other,” said exhibit curator Mary Dodgion.
This is Dodgion’s first curated exhibit, though she’s working with other local historical societies on a future exhibit that focuses on the women’s suffrage movement. She decided to ask them to contribute to “Extraordinary Local Women” after building relationships through the suffrage research.
While all women discussed in the exhibit are local to Sonoma County, some stand out as being particularly notable for west county — like Jennifer Langeberg Vaughn, who was crowned Apple Blossom Queen both locally and nationally and went on to help design costumes for Snoopy’s Home Ice in Santa Rosa.
“Jennifer was our first Sebastopol Apple Queen who won Miss USA (that is, USA Apple Blossom Queen) in Pennsylvania. She went on to be a graphic costume designer, and these are all sketches that she has done,” Dodgion said, motioning around to a wall full of watercolor costume sketches.
“It was basically all of their Christmas shows for a number of years. She was kind enough to give us her sketches and one of the costumes for one of the shows,” Dodgion continued.
Langeberg’s part of the exhibit is Dodgion’s favorite.
“I’ve met her personally, and she is such a brilliant woman,” she said. “Even as an apple queen she was brilliant. She could communicate really well, and she represented our town really well.”
Other local women showcased in the exhibit include Cotati’s Marguerite Hahn, who was the city’s first librarian; Allison Burns McBride, who flew during WWII as part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program and was later awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for her service; as well as numerous others.
“We’re trying to encourage women to be trailblazers. I took that idea, and I looked for women who were first in whatever they did,” she said.
When Dodgion had to narrow down her list, she chose to focus on women who weren’t just the first in their field, but who also “went on to be representative of a very confident woman” and contributed to the whole community.
The West County Museum’s “Extraordinary Local Women” will be up from Dec. 5 to March 14, after which an exhibit devoted to local suffragists will be installed.
On Dec. 7, a grand opening of the exhibit will be held at 1 p.m. and will include special guests such as Fifth District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Sebastopol Mayor Neysa Hinton and some of the women mentioned in the exhibit itself.
“If you look back to the older days here, where women were really stepping forward and doing things … Today we think nothing of going out and being competitive in our fields. Back then it was a little harder,” Dodgion said. “I hope that people take away that these women were trailblazers and that they did pave the way for a lot of us.”