Four years after Gov. Brian Sandoval brought the long dormant Nevada Commission for Women back to life, members christened their first major exhibit on Friday.
Silver State Sisters: Women Transforming Nevada, was presented to a group of about 100 mostly women in the second floor breezeway connecting the Capitol to the Annex.
In the ceremony in the Old Assembly Chambers, Sandoval’s policy director Pam Robinson told the audience the women featured there “tell us about our past, inspire a new generation of Nevada women,” like her inspiration and mentor Barbara Vucanovich — the first Nevada woman elected to the U.S. Congress in the 1970s.
Alicia Barber, who was tasked with choosing the women who would be represented in the exhibit, advised the audience there are many prominent and important women not pictured.
“But our goal throughout was to try to convey a sense of the great diversity of women in our state, where they have lived and what they have done both as individuals and collectively,” she said.
As a result, the exhibits adorning the walls of the breezeway feature a total of 309 women — including Catherine Cortez Masto who was elected two years ago as Nevada’s first female member of the U.S. Senate.
With her election, only one major office in Nevada has never been held by a woman: governor.
Barber said the exhibit also features Bernice Mathews, the first African American woman elected to the Nevada Senate as well as Maya Miller, a longtime environmental and social activist, Bertha Woodard of Reno who fought for civil rights in northern Nevada and Velma Johnston, better known as Wild Horse Annie for her fight to protect wild and free roaming horses and burros. It features Maude Frazier, a Genoa school teacher who in 1962 was appointed Nevada’s first female lieutenant governor and Miriam Shearing, the first woman on Nevada’s Supreme Court.
Not all the faces are famous. The exhibit features the women of Reno’s Twentieth Century Club who raised money to start Nevada’s first public kindergarten and Lillian Running Wolf, Nevada’s first female professional boxing judge. It also showcases showgirls and some of the first women blackjack dealers hired by Harold’s Club during World War II.
Barber said she hopes the exhibit will lead people to further discovery and provide inspiration for women in the future.
Commission member Elisa Cafferata said hopefully this exhibit is just a start, She said they want to create more exhibits in other state buildings that feature the accomplishments of women throughout Nevada’s history.
Sandoval reconstituted and funded the commission after discovering in 2014 it hadn’t met for years and didn’t even have currently appointed members or an operating budget. That discovery came after the Legislative Sunset Commission recommended abolishing the commission because of its inactivity. But members of the Interim Finance Committee led by then-Sen. Debbie Smith and Assemblywomen Maggie Carlton and Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick instead called on the governor to bring it back to life.
Now the commission has regular meetings and an executive director Molly Walt. It’s mission, according to Commission Chairman Diane Fearon, is, “to advance women to full equality in all areas.”