The Fort Myers Founding Females portrait exhibition is designed to introduce to area residents and visitors the names, faces and stories of some of Fort Myers’ most prominent female leaders, civic activists, philanthropists and entrepreneurs. While many in Southwest Florida may have heard of one or two of the town’s Founding Females (such as Mina Edison or Tootie McGregor Terry), few are familiar with the cumulative impact that these women had on the town’s early development or the magnitude of their individual accomplishments and contributions.
The relative anonymity of Fort Myers’ Founding Females can be explained in part by the fact that the town’s founding fathers – cattlemen like Jake Summerlin and Capt. F.A. Hendry, uncommon friends Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, and developers Harvie Heitman, William H. Towles and Walter Langford – were strong and colorful personalities. But it is equally true that the historians who recorded and recounted their stories were men themselves.
But were it not for the contribution of Fort Myers Founding Females, it is unlikely that there would be a Fort Myers at all, and certainly not the town Fort Myers is today. And so the portrait exhibition seeks to bring their significant, even heroic stories to light now, at a time when young boys and girls find themselves in desperate need of astereotypical role models that demonstrate by their lives and examples that women are not only capable of making decisions about their health, education and careers, but can and do make important contributions to the communities in which they live.
“According to a report prepared by Mitsu Klos for the Women’s Media Center, female characters on television, in films, and in video games are typically sexualized and cast in roles that are subservient to men,” notes Founding Females curator and arts advocate Tom Hall.”Not surprisingly, by the age of six, girls are already seeing themselves in this demeaning way, which means that young boys are too. That’s just not acceptable.”
- Women are rarely portrayed as accomplished business, civic and political leaders. In this regard, women comprised only 9 percent of the directors of the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2012. Of the top grossing films of 2013, women accounted for only 16% of the writers, directors, producers, executive producers, editors and cinematographers, with just 28.4% of the speaking roles in the top 100 films going to women.
- The landscape is even bleaker when it comes to women being quoted as authoritative sources in news articles, which quoted women in a scant 19% of the news stories published in January and February of 2013. Just seven out of 100 honorees included in the Newsweek Daily Beast Digital Power Index were women.
- At this pace, women will not attain parity with men in leadership roles in government , politics, entrepreneurship and nonprofits until 2085.
“Since media not only informs, but forms self-images by providing explicit and tacit role models, our Founding Females portrait exhibition undertakes to provide positive role models that can inspire children, teens and the rest of us to set and achieve great personal and societal goals,” Hall asserts. Among the local artists who have submitted works are (alphabetically) Vicki Baker, Mary Beth Barbato, Linda Busch Benson, Tracy Owen Cullimore, Paula Eckerty, Beth Everhart, Cindy Jane, Robert Pavon, Christine Reichow, Renate Reuter, Sarah Tumm, Africa Valdez, Genie Witzel and Joan Wollam.
Now through September 30, you can view the exhibition at the historic Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center in the downtown Fort Myers River District. It is on display in the first floor hallway to the left (north) of the ticket office. Although Hall will be on site during Art Walk and other select events to share stories and answer questions about the participating artists and their subjects, visitors will find transparencies adjacent to or below each portrait that identify the Founding Female as well as the artist who rendered her.
Become part of history. Visit the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center today.