Byline: Holly Haber

One night in early 1996, Cathy Bonner dreamed of a national museum of women’s history: Her vision became reality on Sept. 27.
The National Women’s Museum: An Institute for the Future hosted its opening gala that evening for 1,700 at its home here in National Historic Landmark Fair Park. Doors opened to the public Sept. 29, the kickoff day of the 164th annual State Fair of Texas in the park.
“The museum is a one-of-a-kind thing,” said Bonner, founder, president of the board and proprietor of a marketing consulting firm in Austin. “There is nothing like it in the world, and with over 8,000 museums in the U.S., this is the first and only comprehensive women’s history museum. Never again will there be a generation that is unaware of what women’s roles and accomplishments are in American history.”
With lots of video and interactive technology used in the displays, exhibits depict the work of feminine icons in American history: comediennes, leaders in business and technology, artists, writers, musicians and athletes. Women’s health issues and inventions are also covered. A 30-foot-high electronic wall at the entrance projects a patchwork of 25 screens of both still and moving images of the exhibits.
There’s no fashion component, per se, but quirky apparel artifacts are on view, such as a leather flight suit worn by Amelia Earhart; a white jeweled gown by costume designer and eight-time Oscar winner Edith Head; Eleanor Roosevelt’s Red Cross uniform and a Girl Scout uniform from the turn of the century.
Dallas became the museum’s host city because it had a suitable building — an elegant, but derelict Art Deco structure that was on the list of the 10 Most Endangered National Historic Landmarks. Appropriately, a 1936 cast-stone sculpture of a woman rising from a cactus, which had adorned the front of the building, has been restored.

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