Co-Founder of the National Women’s History Project
Mary Ruthsdotter was born on October 14, 1944, in Fairfield, Iowa. Her family was "strong Midwest stock," and Mary followed in the footsteps of her mother Ruth and grandmother Esther. Both women were smart and independent, and Mary was no different.
Mary's father was a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, and the family moved to many new places. She has lived in Arizona, California, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and overseas in Taiwan.
Mary attended UCLA in the early 1970s and threw herself into those exciting times at the beginning of the feminist movement. She was one of the volunteer embroiderers for Judy Chicago's art installation, "The Dinner Party."
Mary was determined to raise her daughter Alice to be brave and bold. Mary and husband Dave Crawford traveled with four-year-old Alice through South America for several months. She also helped Alice be fearless about math, unlike her own experience in school, when girls were "not supposed to" be good in math.
So Mary was a feminist and activist from early on. But it was when she moved to Sonoma County, California, in 1977 that she learned about women’s history. She went to a slideshow presented by Molly MacGregor, Bette Morgan, and Paula Hammett. As Mary later said, “Seeing all those pictures of so many women involved in such momentous events was an awakening. Women had a long proud history which had been invisible in my schooling. Virtually all the accomplishments and contributions of people like me – women, half the world’s population! -- had been blatantly ignored!”
Mary became passionate about bringing women’s history into public consciousness. Along with MacGregor, Hammett, and Morgan, Mary co-founded the National Women’s History Project (NWHP) in 1980. Her enthusiastic optimism, good humor, ever-expanding knowledge, and dedicated work added immensely to bringing women’s history to wide attention.
As Projects Director, Mary gained funding for materials for students, teachers, librarians, parents, workplace organizers, and the media. She produced curriculum units, organizing guides, teacher training sessions, and videos on U.S. women’s history. She wrote press releases by the hundreds and compiled packets by the thousands for radio, television, magazines, and newspapers.
When the Women’s History Network was created in 1983, Mary linked historians, librarians, performers, and community organizers throughout the country. She produced the quarterly “Network News,” packed with facts, practical ideas, and program strategies. These eight-page newsletters documented the exciting expansion of women’s history in the late 20th century.
Largely because of Mary’s efforts, the NWHP became the national clearinghouse for women’s history, both in print and on the internet. Mary built a library of over 6,000 books about women in U.S. history, and filled cabinets with articles and photographs. She and her husband Dave created two award-winning websites. Mary was an expert at finding and delivering the information people wanted!
Mary Ruthsdotter’s legacy is both the women’s history movement she helped create and the organization she co-founded. Her legacy continues in what the history of women in the past promises for the future.