Closing the Gender Gap: Seeing American Women Sculptors in Wikipedia

SAAM and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative are helping increase representation of American women artists in the world’s most visited encyclopedia

Media - 2011.29 - SAAM-2011.29_2 - 82526
Abastenia St. Léger Eberle, Girl Skating, 1907, bronze, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the C.K. Williams Foundation, 2011.29

Wikipedia is among the top ten most visited websites globally and provides free access to information in 327 languages. However, a troubling aspect of this incredible resource is that women are grossly underrepresented on the site. Less than 19% of Wikipedia biographies in English are about women, and less than 10% of Wikipedia’s volunteer editor base identify as women. Among artists, sculptors are even less likely to be represented in Wikipedia than painters, increasing the possibility of exclusion on this popular site. 

Museums can help close this gender gap and grow Wikipedia by adding images, bolstering content, and publishing unique data as well as related platforms like Wikidata.  The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI) regularly hosts Edit-a-thons to address Wikipedia's gender gap as well as internal training and informational sessions for Smithsonian staff, collaborating with curators and archivists to add organizational assets to Wikimedia. Since 2019, AWHI public programs have resulted in the addition of 460,485 words and 4,518 credible sources about American women to Wikipedia. AWHI-added images on Wikipedia have been viewed more than 24 million times in several languages. 

The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s website shares biographical details about artists when possible, and in many cases, AmericanArt.si.edu is one of the few online sources of information about an artist available. For example, although we still know relatively little about sculptor Elizabeth M. Poucher, SAAM's website is often the first result when searching her name on the internet. Further results on Poucher are sparse, but information from SAAM provides clues into further lanes of inquiry.   

Poucher does not have a Wikipedia article (as of May 2022), something we hope to rectify at an upcoming edit-a-thon. Other sculptors we will focus on include Lillian Florsheim, Abastenia St. Léger Eberle, Raya Bodnarchuk, Stella Waitzkin, Augusta Savage, Claire Falkenstein, and Edmonia Lewis, among many others. Edit-a-thon participants will use SAAM as a direct source of information to create Wikipedia articles or as a springboard to search for additional details in other resources to add to Wikipedia.  

Visit the American Women’s History Initiative website to learn more about how to get involved with Wikipedia, and register now for the Fifty Women Sculptors Edit-a-thon on June 9.  

Kelly Doyle is the open knowledge coordinator at the American Women’s History Initiative. Sonoe Nakasone is a data specialist with SAAM and the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.

Generous funding for these Wikimedia efforts within the American Women's History Initiative was provided in part by Craig Newmark Philanthropies. 

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