Merrill Amos ’11 was recently hired as museum curator and educator at the National Women’s Hall of Fame (NWHF) in Seneca Falls, N.Y.
“We are delighted that Merrill Amos has joined the Hall,” says Jill S. Tietjen, CEO of the NWHF. “With her experience in museum exhibit design and her passion for women’s history, Merrill will be a tremendously valuable asset as we expand our exhibit and curriculum offerings and move into the Center for Great Women in 2016.”
The NWHF recently purchased the Seneca Knitting Mill building, across the canal from the museum’s current location in Seneca Falls. The new building, currently under renovation, will provide 16,000 square feet of new exhibition space for the Hall of Fame and the Center for Great Women.
Amos, who started work at the NWHF in early January, will develop the exhibition space for the new Hall of Fame and Center for Great Women, among other duties, including researching and collecting oral histories from living inductees; forming partnerships with local schools; developing innovative curricula to bring women’s history into the classroom; and creating a collections policy for the Hall to better preserve and catalogue the museum’s artifacts. This spring, she will travel to Georgia to interview former first lady Rosalynn Carter about her lifelong work in the field of mental health.
“The National Women’s Hall of Fame has such important stories to tell and the perfect platform to tell them. The oral histories we collect will be a really nice element to the gallery space: videos of these women giving firsthand accounts of their stories,” says Amos, who hopes to interview Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Gloria Steinem and others for the project. “For our non-living inductees, however, we’ll have to do lots of digging around to be able to hash out the stories that not everyone has heard already while also making the space as interactive as possible. The museum has so much potential and I am really hoping to use my expertise to expand its reach and audience, while also creating top-quality exhibits.”
Audrey Johnson, a member of the NWHF board and the committee that hired Amos, says that “Merrill’s background and level of understanding of women’s oral histories made her the perfect candidate for the National Women’s Hall of Fame Oral History project that is being funded through the Institute of Museum Library Services. Her experience as a curator and exhibit coordinator was well suited to our needs to provide programs for students, researchers and museum visitors.”
“Merrill has a certain critical ease with ideas. She knows how to have intelligent, creative fun with what she learns without losing sight of the deep resonances between the world of ideas and the world of everyday life,” says Betty Bayer, professor of women’s studies at HWS and senior fellow at The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago. “The Hall has shown its good wisdom in hiring Merrill! She will turn her sharp eye and smarts to what the Hall needs to do to ensure its future is a lively and engaging one.”
Amos, a women’s studies major at HWS, recently graduated with an M.A. in museum studies from the University of San Francisco, “a Jesuit university with a mentality geared toward the pursuit of social justice,” she says. “Because of that, the school and the program seemed like a natural fit for me.”
Amos spent six months in Los Angeles after she left Geneva, “before quickly realizing that being a singer/songwriter made me happiest as a hobby and not as a career pursuit,” she says.
After moving to San Francisco, where she worked “administrative temp jobs and even a catering job,” Amos enrolled in the program at USF, which offered the opportunity to develop professional field-specific skills, including courses on museum law, finance, collections management, and more. Through hands-on projects and internships, Amos catalogued and photographed objects from Japanese internment camps; worked at the International Museum of Women and the Mexican Museum in San Francisco (a Smithsonian affiliate); and co-curated an exhibition of Mexican folk art which was on display at USF’s Thacher Gallery.
“Many objects from that show were from the Nelson A. Rockefeller collection and his daughter Ann Rockefeller Roberts came to see the show along with Guadalupe Rivera Marín (daughter of Diego Rivera),” Amos says. “That was a really wonderful moment for me as a new curator.”
In the fall of 2014, Amos co-curated a boutique museum space on the USF campus dedicated to the former San Francisco College for Women, a school that existed from 1933-1978 on Lone Mountain in San Francisco and is now part of the USF campus.
“That exhibit (which is now a permanent installation on campus) was really the first moment for me when I fully employed my undergraduate degree in combination with my graduate one and made me especially competitive in pursuing my job at the National Women’s Hall of Fame,” Amos says.
Last May, she was awarded a curatorial fellowship by the American Alliance of Museums to attend the organization’s annual conference in Seattle, where she saw “some of the most cutting-edge technologies being used to display history and pull visitors in from every generation and walk of life.”
In utilizing such new technology, Amos says she has “incredibly high hopes” for the NWHF. “Our new space is an immense opportunity for growth in just about every way,” she says. “My goal for the exhibition spaces is to create an experience that is as hands-on as possible for our visitors.”
“I saw two of Merrill’s exhibits in San Francisco and was moved by each. Her vision of how to bring material objects into conversation with personal and institutional stories is singularly stunning,” says Bayer. “Her exhibit on a women’s college was heartening and conveyed a certain confidence in and joy of women in higher education. I think Merrill will create new ways to hear the stories of the Women of the Hall and to appreciate women’s contributions.”
Amos, who hails from Cazenovia, N.Y., says that returning to central New York “has been a homecoming in many ways. I had a great time in San Francisco and made some lifelong connections, though I always knew the East was home. I think coming back to the area has really made me realize how much difference a person or small group of people can make in communities such as ours. I’m so excited for this huge opportunity I’ve been given to make a difference while also being able to reconnect with the communities I’ve been away from for a few years!”
In the second photo, Amos is at The Mexican Museum in San Francisco in September 2014 at an exhibit she co-curated, posing with (from left to right) Marjorie Schwarzer, USF Museum Studies; Guadalupe Rivera Marín; Leah Belcher, co-curator; Ann Rockefeller Roberts; Glori Simmons, Director, Thacher Gallery; and Marlena Cannon de Mendéz, The Mexican Museum.