This year marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Manitoba. Mennonite Heritage Village (MHV) wanted to mark this occasion somehow, but we didn’t have enough content for a full exhibit; Mennonites had been disenfranchised for their refusal to fight in the First World War, so neither men nor women were allowed to vote.
Since the suffrage focus didn’t work, we decided instead to mount an exhibit celebrating the broader history of Mennonite women. Often when we talk about Mennonite women in history, we concentrate on their role in the home, raising and feeding their typically large families. This is a story that our outdoor village already tells well, so when Curator Andrea Dyck and I were planning this exhibit, we wanted to tell a different story.
What about the women who, for one reason or another, stepped outside of the traditional female roles of wives and mothers? Our exhibit Beyond Tradition: The Lives of Mennonite Women is about women who influenced the decision to immigrate, worked outside the home during a period when this was still unusual, sought larger roles within the church, and became the heads of their families in times of need. By stepping outside of Mennonite tradition, either by choice or by circumstance, these women made space for themselves within their communities and expanded what it meant to be a Mennonite woman.
We are making it a priority to feature individual women who did extraordinary things. Take Helene Reimer, for example, who received the Order of Canada for her services in the field of nursing. Gertrude Klassen, also known as “Trutje,” maintained a successful chiropractic practice while fostering fifty-three children over thirty years. Ann (Klassen) Wiens was a missionary and advocate among the indigenous peoples (Enlhet, Nivacle, Ayoreo) in the Chaco region of Paraguay; in one encounter, she traded her necklace for a warrior’s spear (which you will see on display).
MHV is also hosting an exhibit by Paul Reimer’s Advanced Photography students from the Steinbach Regional Secondary School. In this series of photographic essays, the students reflect on the women in their lives and the ways they have stepped beyond tradition. This exhibit has already been installed in MHV’s Auditorium.
Beyond Tradition: The Lives of Mennonite Women will be open to the public on Tuesday, June 14. The exhibits will formally be launched on Monday, June 13 at 7:30 PM at MHV. This event is open to the public.
Calendar of Events
- June 11 – Tractor Trek fundraising event; Leaving MHV at 9:45 AM
- June 12 – Southeast Implement Collectors’ Tractor Show – 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM
- July 1 – Steinbach’s Canada Day festivities – 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM