Pursuit & Persistence: A Recap of 2023 at the APS Museum

Deanna Johnson is the Visitor Services Coordinator helping to lead the Museum’s daily operations, and assisting with programs, tours, and...

Another great exhibition season at the American Philosophical Society Museum has come to a close. Over 65,000 walk-in visitors from around the world were able to learn about the brilliant scientists featured in Pursuit & Persistence: 300 Years of Women in Science. That number does not include the numerous private tours and programs put on by our Museum Education staff throughout the exhibition’s run.

The adversity faced by scientists featured in the exhibition resonated with visitors, who then shared countless stories with Museum staff. Biologists, paleontologists, economists, lawyers, doctors and more all shared their own experiences with us throughout the year. One example is from a woman who told us her aunt couldn't get hired as a scientist, so she became a grade school teacher instead. To keep that job, her aunt made the decision to not have children after knowing multiple other female teachers who had been fired because they were pregnant. This is just one of many pursuit and persistence stories that we heard this year.

photo of 4 guides standing in museum gallery in front of Pursuit & Persistence title on wall
Guides in Gallery caption: Visitor Services Lead, Kyle Hiller, and Museum Guides, Brennan Keehan, Josh Lewis, and Abigail Hermann in the APS Museum.

Visitors made connections in other ways as well. Parents explained the ENIAC to their children and transported them to a time before phones and calculators could fit in their hands; visitors who were children in the 1980s compared stories about what it was like to watch the Challenger explode; and a man found a personal connection between Barbara McClintock’s “jumping genes” and his rare form of cancer. We were also lucky enough to have several colleagues and family members of some of the featured scientists visit and share their insights with us.

I could go on and on listing specific interactions, but I’ll leave you with one of my personal favorites. A few months ago, a little girl who had just gotten a microscope for her birthday visited the exhibition with her family. Her parents hadn’t let her bring the microscope with her on their vacation, but this was their last day in Philadelphia and she couldn’t wait to finally get home to use it. She had to tell us excitedly about all the things she was going to put under it the second she got home!

photo of 10 people standing outside in front of brick building on a sunny day
Guides in Park caption: Museum Guide staff with Ali Rospond, Education Programs Manager, and Deanna Johnson, Visitor Services Coordinator.

Providing thoughtful engagement and staffing programs for this volume of visitors would not be possible without the knowledge, flexibility, and care of our Guide team. Thank you Abigail, Andrew, Brennan, David, Josh, Kyle, Linda, and Shannon for creating so many wonderful experiences for our visitors this year.

While the Museum goes dormant for the public this winter, it is a flurry of behind the scenes preparation for our next exhibition. We hope to see you back at the Museum in April for Sketching Splendor: American Natural History, 1750-1850.

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Alyssa Brophy
American Philosophical Society
Alexandra Rospond