The European Commission is making efforts to address the persistent gender inequality in the decision-making roles of museums and cultural heritage institutions. This research project explores the extent to which the current ‘glass ceiling’ in the sector may be linked with the historical, 20th-century gender-biased development of the curatorial profession. Via an interdisciplinary methodology combining archival research and digital humanities with semi-structured interviews and statistical analysis, Women in Museums aims to uncover the legal framework, the social context and the historical circumstances in which women started becoming museum directors in Europe, unearthing the significance of early twentieth-century female curatorial work. The research will also analyse the impact of gender-related difficulties (such as working conditions, legal restrictions, ‘marriage bars’, salary gaps, cultural prejudices, and limitations to decision-making) in shaping the work of pioneering female museum managers. In doing so, it aims to provide a new reading of the shaping of museums and their collections in early 20th-century Europe, thus contributing to rewrite their history from a gender perspective and to reshaping them as agents for women’s empowerment.
By connecting the legacy and the experiences of the first women directing museums in Europe with the fully current context of social demand for fair representation in cultural management, and by rescuing the stories and the legacy of a full generation of female heritage leaders, this project timely connects with and fosters the effective implementation of the European Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 for gender balance in decision-making roles.