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“Our formal economy is only possible because it’s subsidized by women’s unpaid work.”

—Nahla Valji, the senior gender adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations  

Our world is significantly shifting, and is being transformed as our humanity continues to meet unprecedented challenges catalyzed by the Coronavirus Pandemic. In a variety of ‘shecession’ articles published by The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, and The New York Times, it has been suggested that advancements in gender equality, equity, and corporate effectiveness made in the workplace may be startlingly set back by as many as ten years, especially as more women increasingly find their careers at risk. In December 2019, the Bureau of Labor Statistics assessed that employed women outnumbered men for the first time since 2010. In July 2020, a McKinsey Global report revealed that in the U.S. alone, 43% of our nation’s workforce that was empowered by women–accounted for 56% of job losses related to the pandemic during 2020-21.


Associated factors include homeschooling and child care needs, or were determined by being essential.   Arising mental health issues underscore creating work balance for those working remotely from home, where women typically work double shifts in managing most household domestic responsibilities.  For many women, the office provided a space to contribute their talents, knowledge and skills beyond the realm of domestic goddess.  It was a physically and psychologically separate space that gave them voice to express their individuality.  It was an alternative space that provided them with opportunities for being innovators, valuable stakeholders in our society, and important contributors to our world economy.  

In response to the pandemic, more women are revolutionizing the traditional workplace concept as they work remotely and launch their own businesses from home, authentically reclaiming both spaces in dynamic new ways. Remote learning has also provided access to educational continuity for enrolled preK-12 and college students, which is critical for the future success of women and girls.  This expansive reality was made possible by the early advances of digital technologies that were co-created with women and women led teams, some of which are recalled in our book.  Virginia Woolf memorably declared, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”  Woolf’s sentiments can be translated into today’s culture as the present needs of contemporary women who are reimagining a hopeful future for our world. 

It was remarkable that New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts was published in 2018 by the University of Illinois Press during its celebratory centennial.  It is an authentic book that describes a technological revolution from the viewpoints of women and their own contributions, some that continue to have an international impact on our evolving world.  The year 2018 was exciting for Herstory, marking the 25th anniversary of the Mosaic web browser, which is described in the book; and the 97th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right vote in the U.S.   

"Not only was it challenging to jostle for a place in the patriarchal system of the art world, it was also equally daunting to participate in the arena of scientific technologies as a woman. New Media Futures demonstrates a triumph in both camps—indeed, a synergistic explosion of art and science in the hands of a number of women practitioners. And so it continues. This book and the artists and projects recounted here will prove a key text for future generations of intrepid women working across disciplines to ask the hard questions about our place in the universe and how to best “map” the conditions they encounter.  Technology is a valuable handmaiden in the advances of culture, but only when wielded with a spirit of empathy, collaboration, and care, skills in which women, in my opinion, excel.” 

Dr. Lisa Wainwright 

Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty, 

School of the Art Institute of Chicago 


This notable portrait by Man Ray of the influential, feminist British author, Virginia Woolf, was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, April 12, 1937, Vol. XXX, No. 15.  While Woolf is admired for her novels, including Mrs. Dalloway and Orlando, which were both adapted to feature films in 2002 and 1992 respectively, she is well known for her classic essay ‘A Room of One’s Own’, penned in 1929.  She is the daughter of Julia Jackson, whose portrait by Woolf’s great-aunt, Julia Margaret Cameron, is included in Ellen Sandor’s chapter interview in Part I. Woolf’s sentiments continue to resonate with new meaning as women redefine spaces of their own to work and be creative in during these challenging times that are shifting our society.  Brenda Laurel’s research in Part III also explored a feminist concept of spatial navigation in her work with virtual reality and games for girls.  While Woolf’s pivotal essay addressed women’s spatial needs in the physical realm, Laurel’s research expanded the concept to include the virtual, whereas she observed, boys and girls negotiate and navigate physical spaces differently, opening up new possibilities for our community to think about inclusion in designing virtual environments.   

Virginia Woolf, 1935, Man Ray 

9 1/8” x 7” Vintage gelatin silver print 

From the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection

 “A very necessary book that all daughters should read.” 

–Shannon Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design, University of California, Berkeley   

NMF Collage.jpg

Since the inception of this seminal oral history project, our goal has been to reveal infrequently told Herstories of women active in the arts during the digital revolution from the 1970s-1990s and beyond. Although cultural revolutions are rarely isolated, undeniable midwestern events gave rise to artistic innovations that played a major role in the birth of New Media Arts.  

Social developments, including the emergence of civic leadership in education and the arts, aligned with the merits of Chicago’s women’s movement shaped the milieu from which the intersecting narratives presented in New Media Futures: The Rise of Women in the Digital Arts unfold. Historic women figures who propelled the women’s movement from Chicago included Jane Addams, and later Jo Freeman and Betty Friedan, while influential women artists from the midwest include Georgia O’Keeffe, Lynn Hershman, Nancy Burson, and Laurie Anderson.  The University of Illinois and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago provided a foundational framework for the Chicago arts community that supported synergistic cultural environments in which the creativity and careers of the women featured in this book and on our panel could flourish. 

“New Media Futures is poised to become a valuable study tool for those interested in the intersection between art, women artists, and technology.” 

–Angelica Frey, Hyperallergic  


Behind the digital arts revolution in the Midwest lies a long history of women building civic leader-ship and cultivating dynamic social relationships. By forging a stronghold for change in the arts, education, and design, these pioneering women cross-pollinated creative forces that continue to emerge and evolve from historical contexts to the present day. 

Women’s civic leadership in Chicago found prominent expression in the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893: a pavilion designed, decorated, and managed by women. Philanthropist Bertha Honoré Palmer, who had formed the Chicago Woman’s Club in 1876. 

Behind the digital arts revolution in the Midwest lies a long history of women building civic leader-ship and cultivating dynamic social relationships. By forging a stronghold for change in the arts, education, and design, these pioneering women cross-pollinated creative forces that continue to emerge and evolve from historical contexts to the present day. 

Women’s civic leadership in Chicago found prominent expression in the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893: a pavilion designed, decorated, and managed by women. Philanthropist Bertha Honoré Palmer, who had formed the Chicago Woman’s Club in 1876. 

Mrs. Potter Palmer, 1893, Anders Leonard Zorn

101 5/8” x 55 5/8” Oil on canvas 

 From The Art Institute of Chicago.  Used with permission.


Georgia O’Keeffe, Lake George, 1931, Alfred Stieglitz 

 3” x 3 5/8” Vintage gelatin silver print 

 From the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Collection 

Midwestern-born Georgia O’Keeffe (1887–1986) was an influential twentieth-century artist who helped define modernism with her abstract charcoal drawings, watercolor, and oil paintings, sculptures, and photographs. She briefly attended SAIC and was among the first modern women artists to be recognized in art history texts and included in Helen Gardner’s Art through the Ages. The Art Institute of Chicago hosted her first retrospective in 1943. 

“To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.” 

–Georgia O’Keeffe

Bridging art and education, art historian Helen Gardner published the first edition of her seminal Art through the Ages in 1926, the first single-volume textbook to provide a global survey of art history. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Gardner taught at the School of the Art Institute from 1920 until her retirement. Many editions later, Art through the Ages remains a standard text in the field. The third edition, published shortly after her death in 1946, was the first to include women artists (Mary Cassatt, Berthe Morisot, Georgia O’Keeffe). 

From 2008-2012, we recorded interviews of twenty-two women whose contributions focused on 1985 as a pivotal point for a set of questions. Our HERSTORY panels at the University Club of Chicago, CAA, SIGGRAPH, NCSA and SAIC represent a breadth of generations and approaches that serve as exemplars from influential years in the 20th Century’s digital revolution that catalyzed social media and the widespread use of the Internet.   


Mixed media and video art began to intermingle with computer software, networking abilities, and digital interfaces that took on new forms of cultural expression. An evolution of 20th Century New Media Arts began to emerge with the innovation of computer graphics animation, scientific visualization, interactive media, electronic games, PHSColograms, the Internet, and virtual reality CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment), all produced with collaborative teams led by pioneering artists on the prairie. These types of artistic explorations continued to develop and evolve beyond the 1990s to become known as “New Media” or “digital media.”


As stakeholders in the future of art and technology and the positive impact it could have on humanity, the women we interviewed adopted a variety of innovative, collaborative strategies in order to navigate their career paths.  These trailblazing women situated themselves within experimental settings that unlocked their imaginations with the garage-art tools of their time that led to the co-creation of new forms of artistic expression. Collaboration was a strategy with a variety of motivations to be part of a larger vision that required women to cultivate the new leadership role of being “artists as producers” or “artists as directors” as each project demanded. 

The cultivation of this new domain encouraged people to learn new skills and work together across disciplines, cultures, and institutions, which created a different concept of and inclusive community. It was no longer unusual for teams to be comprised of artists, scientists, technologists, designers, scholars, and educators all working on the same project, pooling together their expertise and experience. Collaboration became an avenue to access technology as well as the specialized knowledge, language, and surroundings of a like-minded community of kindred spirits.      


Decoration of South Tympanum, “Modern Woman” by Mary Cassatt. 

Frontispiece, Woman’s Building, United States. Designed by Sophia G. Hayden. 

Source: Maude Howe Elliott, Art and Handicraft in the Woman’s Building of the World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, “A Celebration of Women Writers.” 

Mary Cassatt’s (1844–1926) design of the Woman’s Building South Tympanum celebrated young women pursuing knowledge and science. This is one of the themes emerging in the twentieth-century modern woman.  

Sophia Hayden (1868–1953), the first woman architect to graduate from MIT, was hired by Palmer to design the Woman’s Building for the World’s Columbia Exposition. This building and assemblage signified women’s accomplishments worldwide and helped to galvanize women nationally and internationally.  


The Ground Plan Woman’s Building shows the international impact and the global participants engaged with the midwestern women designers. These countries included England, France, Germany, Italy, Ceylon, and Japan—featuring inventions, artworks, and scientific explorations made by women.  


HERSTORY: Digital Innovations Symposium & Book Signing at NCSA

October 26, 2018

From left to right: Copper Giloth, Brenda Laurel, Margaret Dolinsky, Barbara Sykes, Mary Rasmussen, Maxine Brown, Carolina Cruz-Neira, Ellen Sandor and Dana Plepys

One of our goals for this project is to inspire future generations who may continue to grapple with obstacles and reveal little-known synergies and strategies of women artistically using technology to propel cultural change. We additionally hope to provide a message for future generations to understand some of the midwestern foundations and values that helped engender the now so familiar. It is important that we all work together, with men and women on equal footing, to raise human consciousness and make the world a better place. The synthesis of the arts in New Media is a metaphor for a harmonious society. Our book is truly about women supporting each other towards this end.  Many of the active women in the book continue to forge ahead with new research initiatives, teaching, exhibiting, and cultivating their expression of consciously living in today’s world. Women have become authors of their own stories. Together, we are all co-creators of our cultural heritage and stewards of our world. 


Working on New Media Futures has been an incredibly enriching journey for all of us involved in this encapsulating project. We feel blessed and honored to have met, interviewed, and gotten to know these incredible women over the years to whom all of us owe an everlasting debt for their tenacity and guiding inspiration.


“We Can Do It!” iconic 1942 poster for Westinghouse by J. Howard Miller, an artist employed by Westinghouse for the poster used by the War Production Coordinating Committee. Closely associated with Rosie the Riveter, although not a depiction of the cultural icon itself. Pictured Geraldine Doyle (1924–2010), at age seventeen. From a scan of copy belonging to the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, retrieved from the website of the Virginia Historical Society. 

“We Can Do It!” 1942, J. Howard Miller

From Wikimedia Commons 

“This is a book that can be picked up and opened to any area to explore. If you do, you will come away a little bit wiser, certainly more informed and totally impressed with what these women have done.” 

–Cinda Ackerman Klickna, Illinois Times 

“This important anthology offers riveting testimonials to the tangible contributions of women during the dawn of the digital era. Concentrated in the Midwest, these scientists, inventors, designers, and artists faced down gender bias to shape the global future of technology and culture.” 

–Sara Diamond, President, OCAD University


“This is a book that can be picked up and opened to any area to explore. If you do, you will come away a little bit wiser, certainly more informed and totally impressed with what these women have done.”  

–Cinda Ackerman Klickna, Illinois Times 

“This is a fascinating and important book. It will appeal to scientists, technologists, artists, and the general public. It tells wonderfully exciting stories of creative, risk-taking women (and men) that will inspire present and future generations. These stories demonstrate that the creative spark that drives scientists and artists knows no disciplinary boundaries. And it is simply a delightful read.” 

–Walter E. Massey, Past Chancellor, School of the Art Institute of Chicago 


“It was one of the formative periods in my life to be associated with many of the creative women in this book. It was a magic period, when these women helped transform the world as we knew it. I am so happy to see their innovative work is finally getting the attention it deserves.” 

–Larry Smarr, Founding Director, Calit2 and NCSA 


The film Suffragette (2015) recounted the sacrifices made by Pankhurst, Emily Wilding Davison, and numerous underground women feminists. In a cast interview for the film, Sarah Gavron, director, and Faye Ward, producer, explained, “We did a huge amount of research, and read the unpublished accounts, diaries and police archives. There was a police surveillance unit that they were subjected to. Surveillance really was created to find and to fight and crack the suffragettes” (Suffragette 2016). 


Brendan Gleeson, “Inspector Arthur Steed,” noted, “They had these cameras and some of them were very tiny that they looked modern almost. But the one that had a zoom lens, the one that could capture from far off, was quite boxy, was quite big. The new advance was that they didn’t have to be on a tripod. It meant they were mobile and that you could go quite far away and get a reasonably good image. The suffragette movement was the first to be put under that kind of photographic surveillance.”  


Meryl Streep, who portrayed Pankhurst in a cameo, said, “The movement was seen as a threat because it was classless” and united women from all walks of life, from socialites to laborers and everything in between to gather and rise up against a patriarchal political system. “Women are globally joining together on behalf of each other,” Streep said (Suffragette 2016). 

New Media Futures was published in 2018, also the 97th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that gives women the right vote, the centennial of the University of Illinois Press and the 25th Anniversary of the Mosaic web browser.   

Suffrage Parade, New York City, May 6, 1912 

From Wikimedia Commons 

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