Invisible Labor

Whose story is told? Who is represented? Whose work is valued? 

Women have never been absent from the world of science, but their contributions have not always been recognized. Throughout the first few decades of the museum’s history, official portraits of museum staff featured only the male professors and curators, and they never included the women who worked as assistants and secretaries. For years, these records made their labor nearly invisible. Much of their work took place behind the scenes, but their legacy can still be seen across the museum. From the collections they catalogued to the exhibits they created, they helped to shape the museum’s development and mission as a center for teaching and learning.

Photograph of Museum Curators, Seated on the Steps of the Museum

Official portraits of museum staff only featured male curators—and none of the women assistants whose work was so significant to the early history and development of the museum.

Courtesy of the Ernst Mayr Library and Archives of the Museum of Comparative Zoology ©President and Fellows of Harvard College


This exhibit was made possible by Guest Curator Reed Gochberg, Assistant Director of Studies and a Lecturer on History and Literature. Special thanks to the Committee for the Provostial Fund for the Arts and Humanities for providing additional funding, to Katherine Enright, Ava Hampton, Jamie Paterno Ostmann, and Una Corbett for their assistance with research, and to the Museum of Comparative Zoology, the Ernst Mayr Library, the Harvard University Archives, and the Massachusetts Historical Society for providing materials for this exhibit.