Sunday, April 17, 2011

Powerful exhibit at River Museum

It took me a couple of months, but I finally got down to the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium in Dubuque to take in the special traveling exhibition “Women & Spirit: Catholic Sisters in America.”

Some folks might wonder why a "river museum" would host an exhibit that has no apparent connection with waterways. The national-level museum is part of the Dubuque County Historical Society, and histories of Dubuque and women religious have been interwoven from the beginning of white settlement.

A major co-sponsor of the exhibition is Clarke University, one of countless U.S. institutions founded by women religious (in this case Mary Frances Clarke, foundress of Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

The museum describes the exhibition as "featuring the untold stories of the innovative, action-oriented women who played such a significant role in shaping the nation’s social and cultural landscape." It is all of that, showing how sisters were part of U.S. history, including the Civil War, the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 and the Spanish Flu epidemic to today's service in education and health care as well as peace and justice issues.

The exhibition remains in Dubuque for another month: Its last day is May 22. I recommend it.

Caption: Benedictine Sisters anticipate the completion of St Anthony’s Hospital in Bemidji, Minnesota, in 1900. Before workers’ compensation was mandated by law, most laborers went without coverage. The sisters made health care affordable by selling “Lumberjack Tickets” for $1-9 and guaranteed medical care in Benedictine hospitals. (Photo courtesy Benedictines of Duluth.)

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