Honoring the Women of Yesterday and Tomorrow

Women’s Research Institute of Nevada preserves local history and builds leaders of the future 

The silver state has a rich history of women pioneers, from the first executive of a national airline to the co-owner of the first integrated casino in Nevada.

If you haven’t heard of Florence Murphy (the airline executive) or Anna Bailey (co-owner of the Moulin Rouge Hotel, with her husband William “Bob” Bailey), it might be time to visit the history archives on the Women’s Research Institute of Nevada’s website (wrinunlv.org). Housed at UNLV, the 16-year-old institute offers a variety of programs, from methods for preserving women’s history in Nevada to bolstering pioneers of the future.

“The reason WRIN exists is [so it can] conduct research on a particular segment of our society that has only become more important in terms of the economic viability of family, in terms of political participation, in terms of the health of women in our state,” says WRIN Executive Director Joanne Goodwin, who is also a history professor at UNLV.

“In terms of women’s leadership and civic engagement, there are a lot of programs now that students can become involved in, but we are still the only program that focuses on gender issues …” – Joanne Goodwin

A big part of WRIN’s work, which is funded with public and private money, is to seek out opportunities to collect and share women’s history from around the state. In 2014, WRIN partnered with Vegas PBS to produce episodes for the series Makers: Women in Nevada History, spotlighting suffrage, the women known as “Magnesium Maggies” who worked in the Basic Magnesium Inc. factory during World War II and other historical topics.

Those episodes are available on the WRIN website, but they are just the beginning, according to Goodwin. “We did a lot of the interviews. In the 90 minutes [of Makers programs], you only get a few seconds of these people talking. So in the second phase that WRIN is doing, [we are] taking those hourlong interviews … and dividing them into eight to 12 two-minute segments on similar themes, such as early influences, challenges in the [workplace] and advice to young leaders.”

The institute is also working with the Clark County School District to develop a curriculum of women’s history that can be used in U.S. history, Nevada history and government classes.

“If it works with teachers, [it is] really kind of landmark, because I think there are still [only] three women covered in the curriculum,” she says. “And there isn’t much, if anything, after 1920.”

Looking to the future, WRIN also runs the one-week women’s education and mentorship program called National Education for Women Leadership (NEWL), which takes place this year from June 5-11. Participants, who must be women enrolled in college, take a variety of workshops and classes designed to teach them leadership skills.

“We have a lot of support from the community,” Goodwin says. “In terms of women’s leadership and civic engagement, there are a lot of programs now that students can become involved in, but we are still the only program that focuses on gender issues and how they may come up as [women] advance through their careers and their lives.”

The program has more than 250 alumni who work in a variety of fields all over the state, as well as Washington, D.C. One such alum is Carmella Gadsen, who went through the program last year. Gadsen graduated from UNLV in December and now works as a program coordinator with the Jean Nidetch Women’s Center. In January, she helped launch the new campus violence prevention program Green Dot, which teaches students safe ways to intervene and prevent violence. A five-year study released in 2014 showed that when used in high schools, the Green Dot program reduces student sexual violence by 50 percent and all forms of student violence by 40 percent.

Gadsen is just one of many young women who come out of the NEWL program armed not only with leadership skills, but also a network of mentors.

“I built some great relationships with my peers, who I don’t think I would have had an opportunity to meet elsewhere,” Gadsen says. “I just think that’s invaluable. I can’t put a price on that.”