HomeLearning CenterAt the National Mall, Artist Tiffany Shlain Is Rewriting Women into U.S. History

At the National Mall, Artist Tiffany Shlain Is Rewriting Women into U.S. History

Originally published by Bonnie Stabile for Ms. Magazine

The architecture of Washington, D.C., was self-consciously designed to evoke power, permanence and ancient Greek and Roman ideals of democracy and liberty, as espoused by the Founding Fathers. However, with erosion threatening architectural and human rights landmarks, artist and activist Tiffany Shlain says it is time to imagine a new national monument. Sponsored by the National Women’s History Museum and Women Connect4Good, she has undertaken such a project.

Shlain, a veteran commentator on the modern human condition, is orchestrating a moveable monument on the national mall: a tree ring roughly five feet in diameter, with text burned into the wood showing a timeline of the story of women and power in society.

Her ambitious take on the historical tree rings was inspired by her childhood visits to national parks. This ring begins by noting that goddesses were worshipped in 50,000 BCE. It ends with the outermost ring demarcating the 2022 overturning of Roe v. Wade as “eviscerating federal protection of reproductive rights in the U.S.” (See a full list of the tree ring’s milestones at the end of this article.)

Shlain’s feminist history tree ring is named Dendrofemonology, a play on the term dendrochronology—the science of “dating events in former periods by the comparative study of growth rings in trees.” It offers an intentional counternarrative to more typical patriarchal fare—such as narratives that credit colonialist Christopher Columbus for setting sail in 1492, as the Cross-Section of Time landmark does at Muir Woods National Monument, an example of what Shlain calls “mansplained history.”

The feminist history tree ring will be on display from Nov. 1-4, 2023, between the Washington Monument and the imposing Capitol building.

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