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Student creates a new exhibition to remember suffragettes – and help a small town museum

Shaina Lynch
Shaina Lynch with the exhibition she created in Caldwell for the women’s suffrage movement. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.

The Our Memories Indian Creek Museum in downtown Caldwell might not be what comes to mind when you think of a history museum. The mid-century brick building began its life as a doctor’s office in the 1950s. It became a dentist’s office after that, then a place for the dentist and his wife, Archie and Opal Gulley, to display their large collection of historic artifacts from the area. Today, the Canyon County Historical Society owns the museum.

Shaina Lynch, a secondary education major with a history and social sciences emphasis, fell in love with the place the minute she saw it and its 30 rooms – each, she said, “lovingly designed around a different theme.”

One features what Lynch called “a scary looking electric perm machine with all the rods coming down.” One room is devoted to surgery with an operating table, a mannequin nurse and a skeleton in a coffin on a mortician’s table. One display includes a mannequin in a bathtub with packing peanuts meant to resemble bubbles.

“There’s a room set up as a chapel, another like a sweet shop, and another devoted to the military,” said Lynch. “Everything is fastidiously labeled with drawers of razors, scissors and knives. There’s a school room, a kitchen, a bedroom. There’s a lot to see.”

Shaina Lynch with museum volunteers
Our Memories Indian Creek Museum staff members (L) Judy Boothe and Leta Boatman with Boise State student Shaina Lynch and her suffrage exhibition. Photo by Patrick Sweeney.

Like so many small town museums, the Our Memories Indian Creek Museum runs without a lot of frills, but with the support of a devoted volunteer staff of four, an annual operating budget of $5,000 and not as many visitors as everyone would like. So when Lynch received a $1,000 summer grant from the Boise State History Extension Service, she knew where she wanted to spend it.

The grants, said Bob Reinhardt, an assistant professor in the history department and director of the extension program, are meant to help students share their historical expertise beyond the university, while benefitting community organizations – many without a lot of resources.

Lynch created a timely exhibition in this year that marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment: Votes for Women! Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage. She was inspired after signing up for all of the suffrage celebration events planned in Boise, then being heartbroken when the pandemic forced cancellations.

“Women got robbed, but that’s the history of the vote for women,” said Lynch. “Through history, wars and recessions would arise and people would use them as excuses to say it wasn’t the time for championing the vote. I said, no. I wanted to do something to keep the celebrations going.”

Lynch spent the grant money and money from her own pocket to create the exhibition that, at the request of the museum volunteers, focuses on the women of Canyon County. Lynch searched the Caldwell Tribune archives for names related to suffrage, and found around 40 women who were involved with the movement. She created a binder with biographical sketches of each woman.

Shaina Lynch's exhibition

Because “everyone sees history of that era in black and white,” said Lynch, she ordered replicas of historic posters, magazine covers, postcards and a giant Idaho flag – highlighting that Idaho has the only state seal designed by a woman, Emma Edwards Green of Boise. The state adopted the flag in 1891, a year after statehood. Lynch’s exhibition includes period garb and an article in Harper’s Bazaar written by then Gov. Frank Steunenberg stating that women’s suffrage would be good for the state. Lynch ordered free booklets about suffrage for the museum to give away. She designed her own bookmarks to give away, along with free coloring pages for kids.

“I went crazy,” she admitted.

Lynch worked closely with museum docent Leta Boatman, a lifelong Idahoan who has volunteered at the museum for more than a decade. Boatman gives tours to visitors. She tells them they can walk around, and get in and out of the museum in 15 minutes.

“But if you really want your money’s worth ($5 for adults, $4 for seniors), it takes about an hour,” she said.

Boatman doesn’t have a favorite room in the museum, rather she picks out something interesting in every room to share with visitors. In the bedroom, that’s usually an object that looks like an oil can, but is in fact an antique bed bug sprayer. Boatman cleared out the portrait display she created herself paying homage to Canyon County “movers and shakers,” from potato magnate J.R. Simplot to Carrie French, the 19-year-old Caldwell soldier killed in Iraq in 2005, to make way for Lynch’s exhibition.

“I was happy to do it,” Boatman said. “Shaina’s display is all-encompassing. It took a lot of time.”

But more important, Boatman believes the exhibition has attracted more visitors to the museum.

“And this being the 100th anniversary of the vote, I think it’s helping,” said Boatman.

Lynch said the museum volunteers have taken their own inspiration from the exhibition, including wearing shirts printed with sunflowers, one symbol of the women’s suffrage movement. The exhibition is on display through Election Day.

More about the History Extension Service

The extension program is ongoing. Students can propose projects. Organizations also can ask for assistance with existing projects. Four students, including Lynch, received $1,000 grants this summer. A fifth project is taking place in fall with the Boise City Canal Company, one of the oldest irrigation companies in the American West.

Contact Bob Reinhardt for more information:

Read about a history student’s summer project collecting stories of the LGBTQIA community at the Wassmuth Center in Boise with the assistance of the History Extension Service grant.

– Story by Anna Webb