5 feminist history reasons to visit Cleveland — whether you're protesting, attending or working the Republican National Convention

While the GOP bashes Planned Parenthood, you can visit the world’s largest historical collection of contraceptives

Published July 17, 2016 10:30PM (EDT)

Amelia Earhart   (AP)
Amelia Earhart (AP)

Cleveland is having a bit of a moment. The city just won their first professional sports championship since 1964 and will soon be hosting what might be most incendiary political conventions in decades.

But beyond LeBron, Trump’s upcoming visit and the booming food scene, Cleveland is also home to a surprising number of sites that celebrate women’s history and accomplishments. Here are a few suggestions from a native Clevelander that are definitely worth the visit if you’re in town attending, working or protesting the Republican National Convention.

1. The International Women’s Air & Space Museum

When you think of aviation history in Ohio, typically the Dayton area -- home of the Wright brothers -- comes to mind. But chances are, you might not have heard of Orville and Wilbur Wright if it weren’t for their charming and chatty sister Katharine, who essentially functioned as the publicist for her shy brothers. You can learn all about Katharine (and see one of her dresses on display), along with Bessie Coleman, Viola Davis -- and yes, Amelia Earhart -- at the International Women’s Air & Space Museum in Cleveland. Women in space also feature prominently, including a new exhibit entitled "This is Mission Control...Women in Mission Control," featuring NASA's female mission controllers, and a permanent display on the Mercury 13 Women. The museum began as a committee of Ninety-Nines -- an international organization for women pilots founded in 1929 headed by Amelia Earhart -- who wanted to preserve artifacts and history of women in aviation. Located in Cleveland’s Burke Lakefront Airport since 1998 -- itself an interesting place to view a midcentury airport interior -- the museum is free and open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

2. The History of Contraception Museum at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History

Fun fact: Cleveland is home to the world’s largest collection of contraceptive devices. More than 650 items come from the collection of Percy Skuy -- a pharmacist past president of the Canadian company Ortho Pharmaceutical -- and were donated to the museum in 2004. The exhibit features everything from folk contraceptive methods -- including douching with Lysol or eating poisonous herbs like pennyroyal or drinking tea made from beaver testicles -- to today’s conventional methods, such as the condom, IUD and birth control pill. Although not specifically dedicated to women’s history, the museum examines the politics of birth control, including the impact of criminalization and multiple waves of the feminist movement. There is also a display of stories of some of the women from Cleveland and the roles they played in making contraception legal, safe and accessible. The Dittrick Museum of Medical History is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

3. Union Chapel

Located on a country road in the township of Newbury, about an hour east of downtown Cleveland, Union Chapel was once one of the most important places in the women’s suffrage and dress reform movements. Also known as the Free Speech Chapel, the one-room white wooden structure was built between 1856-1858, when future president James A. Garfield was not permitted to speak at the Congregational Church across the street, out of fear that his speech would be too controversial. According to its deed, the chapel was to be free, open to the public and not used for the exclusion of anyone by serving as “public hall or meeting house for literary, scientific, moral and religious purposes and lectures on all useful subjects.” Since its establishment, Union Chapel served as a hub of women’s suffrage, hosting public figures including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Stone. In 1871, nine women cast their ballots in the chapel, making them Ohio’s first women voters. The chapel is open for tours May through October, by appointment only, by calling the Geauga Park District at 440-286-9516.

4. Lynn Hershman Leeson: “Cyborgs and Self-Promotion” Exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Art

Cleveland native Lynn Hershman Leeson began creating her pioneering art examining the intersection of humans and technology in the 1960s. This exhibit -- which features photography, video and sculpture -- marks Hershman Leeson’s first appearance at the Cleveland Museum of Art since 1968. One of the featured works, Seduction of a Cyborg, depicts a vision of the future where women are lured into becoming cyborgs through manipulated computer chips. Her exploration of issues surrounding transhumanism combines digital art with sharp social commentary, highlighting humans’ ever-changing relationship with technology. The exhibit runs through Monday, August 8, in the Video Project Room, Gallery 224a in the Cleveland Museum of Art.

5. “Louder than Word: Rock, Politics & Power” exhibit at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame

Although not focused specifically at women, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s current exhibit on rock, politics and power features some of the women whose music and activism made a lasting impact on society.The exhibit utilizes interviews and interactive tools, photography and artifacts that center on eight topics: feminism, LGBT issues, civil rights, war and peace, censorship, political campaigns, political causes and international politics. For example, the display features the work of women whose music influenced the both the women’s and civil rights movements, like Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. Also on show will be the guitar used by John Lennon and Yoko Ono during their Montreal “Bed-in for Peace,” when they introduced the anti-war anthem, “Give Peace a Chance.” More recent artists will also be featured, including feminist punk rock protest group, Pussy Riot, who utilized their music as a form of social activism in Russia. During the Republican National Convention, July 18-21, 2016, the Rock Hall will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. with free admission.

By Elizabeth Yuko

Dr. Elizabeth Yuko is a bioethicist and writer who specializes in reproductive and sexual health ethics, the ethics of human enhancement, and the intersection of bioethics and popular culture. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Refinery29, and The Establishment.

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