Image of the Shaping Narratives Women's History Month Exhibition

Shaping Narratives

2023 Women’s History Month exhibition
Exhibition on View
2023 Women’s History Month: Shaping Narratives
Monday – Friday, 7:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.
March 1 - March 31, 2023
Governor's Reception Room, 2nd Floor
New York State Capitol


Women of New York have been a pivotal force in shaping our culture through their actions and voices. Taking a cue from the National Women’s History Alliance theme for this year's Women's History Month, “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories,” this exhibition celebrates the history of New York’s great women communicators.

Each of these women broke through social norms and elevated the lives and experiences of the unseen, unknown, and unheard, forming new and profound narratives. They have chronicled the continuing struggle against sexism and racism, fought for change in the ranks of power, and have upended and expanded the meaning of literature, art-making, and critical thought.

Their legacies continue to provoke and inspire generations of women who feel the opportunity to shape humanities’ story in their grasp.


Connie Chung

(1946 - )

“I tried my best to set a precedent for a future woman who may be sitting there.”

In 1993, Connie Chung made history as the first Asian person to co-anchor the CBS Evening News. Throughout the decades of her career, she remained dedicated to good and honest reporting while battling sexist and racist commentary from men who controlled the media industry. One of Chung’s personal achievements of her career was covering the 1972-1974 Watergate Scandal.
Image of Connie Chung

Barbara Walters

(1929 - 2022)

In 1976, Barbara Walters changed the face of television when she became the first female to anchor an evening news program. Walters transformed the stereotypical narrative of “suitable” topics for women to watch on television. Her work amplified women’s voices, from hosting the show Not for Women Only in the 1970s to co-creating and moderating on ABC’s The View until 2014. Her interviews garnered international attention for her unique blend of high-profile reporting with the panache of showbiz.

Barbara Walters in her office, as photographed by Lynn Gilbert in 1979, New York.
Black and white photo of Barbara Walters in her office

Nellie Bly

(1864 - 1922)

Nellie Bly was a pioneering figure in the history of investigative journalism. She landed her first job at The Pittsburgh Dispatch after writing a letter to the editor demanding more female representation at his publication. It was an 1887 piece written for "The New York World" that cemented Bly’s place in history when she went undercover and wrote an exposé on the abhorrent conditions at the “Women’s Lunatic Asylum” on New York’s Blackwell Island. Her story catapulted her name to fame and triggered asylum reforms.

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Black and white image of Nellie Bly

Margaret Bourke-White

(1904 - 1971)

Margaret Bourke-White’s list of “firsts” is expansive and includes: the first photographer for Fortune (later the first female photographer for LIFE) and the first female photographer to work as a correspondent on the battlefields and skies of World War II. Bourke-White redefined and popularized what we know today as the “photographic essay.” Her documentation of national and international events have become historic icons. One of her most well-known images is a photograph of Gandhi from 1946, taken hours before his assassination.

Margaret Bourke-White at Camp Patrick Henry Railhead, 1944. Official photograph of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, Newport News, Virginia
Black and white photo of Margaret Bourke-White

Audre Lorde

(1934 - 1992)

Audre Lorde began writing poetry in her teens and was published in Seventeen magazine while in high school. Soon after, she achieved fame as a poet whose gift of words often brought the voices of the underrepresented to light. A self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Lorde's life work centered on confronting injustice and oppression from racism, homophobia, and sexism. After her cancer diagnosis in 1977, Lorde wrote The Cancer Journals while struggling with feelings of isolation and her writings became an outlet for women battling cancer.
Image of Audre Lorde

Toni Morrison

(1931 - 2019)

Toni Morrison is one of the most prolific and celebrated authors whose books explore the Black experience. At the age of thirty-nine, she published her first novel, The Bluest Eye and went on to publish critically acclaimed novels such as "Song of Solomon" (1977), "Tar Baby" (1981), and "Beloved" (1987). She was the first Black woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 2000, the Library of Congress awarded Morrison its “Living Legend” award.

Toni Morrison, ca. 1980-1987. Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Image of Toni Morrison

Lorraine Hansberry

(1930 - 1965)

Lorraine Hansberry was a playwright and activist and the first Black woman to have a play produced on Broadway: "A Raisin in the Sun." The widely-recognized play focuses on a Black family living on the South Side in Chicago. Her work opened the doors for Black audiences and artists, alike. Sadly, Hansberry died from pancreatic cancer at the age of thirty-four, but her legacy lives on as "A Raisin in the Sun" continues to reach new audiences through revivals and modern adaptations.

Image courtesy of The New York Public Library.
Black and white image of Lorraine Hansberry

Zora Neale Hurston

(1891 - 1960)

Zora Neale Hurston was an author, anthropologist and filmmaker whose work was centered on the Black experience and Black folklore. While attending Barnard College in New York City, she fell in with writers such as Langston Hughes and was quickly absorbed into a community of artists that became known as prominent figures of the Harlem Renaissance. One of her most famous works, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" provided insight on the life of a southern Black woman.

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Black and white photo of Zora Neale Hurston

Susan Sontag

(1933 - 2004)

Award winning writer, activist, critic, philosopher and film director, Susan Sontag, was regarded to be one of the most significant figures of art and cultural theory. Sontag launched to fame with her Notes on “Camp” that set in motion a new way of thinking about gender, sexuality, art and pop culture during the 1960s era of reverting antiquated taboos. Sontag was a dedicated human rights activist and served as president of the American Center of PEN, an institution devoted to the freedom of expression.

Susan Sontag photographed in her home, 1979 ©Lynn Gilbert
Black and white photo of Susan Sontag

Suzan Shown Harjo

(1945 - )

Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne & Hodulgee Muscogee) is a poet, writer, and activist. She moved to New York City in 1964 and co-produced the WBAI-FM 24/7 radio station program, "Seeing Red" which was the first indigenous news program in the United States. Since the 1960s, she has advocated for removing derogatory Native American names from national sports teams’ names and mascots. Since relocating to Washington, D.C. in 1974, she has played a central role in developing important legislation for Native American rights.

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress
Image of Suzan Shown Harjo

Isabelle Dolores “Dee” Wedemeyer

(b. 1943)

Dee Wedemeyer was one of the first women to be admitted to the Legislative Correspondents Association when the organization began admitting women in 1967. She was a reporter for Albany’s The Knickerbocker News. She went on to work for the Associated Press in 1968, where one of the many things she reported on included families living under welfare. She worked for The New York Times from 1976 until her retirement in 2003.

Governor Kathy Hochul and Dee Wedemeyer, May 2022
Image of Isabelle Dolores “Dee” Wedemeyer

Melba “Malín” Falú Pesante

(1946 - )

Born in Puerto Rico, Falú earned a Master’s degree in Media Studies from the New School for Social Research in New York City in 1983. She hosted several radio shows but it was her show "Hablando con Malín" (1989 to 2001) that skyrocketed her platform, increased listenership by 700% and was ranked as one of New York City’s top ten radio shows in 1998. Falú was an advocate for fighting against gender and racial biases in the media. She has interviewed high-profile celebrities such as La Lupe and political figures such as former First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Image of Melba “Malín” Falú Pesant
Paving the Way for the Future


While each of the women highlighted in this exhibition broke down barriers and opened doors, there is still progress to be made. A new generation of women is emerging and using their words to better society for all.

One example is Stephanie Pacheco, the eighteen-year-old New York City Youth Poet Laureate of 2023. Her winning poem, On Surviving House Fires is a tribute to her neighborhood in the South Bronx, and both the joy and pain people experience there. Stephanie wants to use her voice to advocate for community access and educational equality.

Imara Jones is the Emmy and Peabody award-winning creator of TransLash Media and the first transgender person to receive an award from the National Black Journalists Association.

According to the website, TransLash Media "uses the power of personal narratives to address the ignorance at the heart of trans erasure” and “shift the cultural understanding of what it means to be transgender, and help end anti-trans hate."

Our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.” -Audre Lorde

Whether through an image, a song, a poem, a novel, or a newspaper, women have used various forms of media to amplify the voices of women, pursue truth, and shape cultures for future generations. Through their struggles and progress, women in the media have made history visible in New York State and nationwide.

The women highlighted throughout this exhibit act as a reminder of the power of one’s voice to shape history for generations to come.