Exhibitions Across the Curriculum

Exhibitions Across the Curriculum is an initiative of the Museum Studies program www.rit.edu/museumstudies that coordinates the design and installation of exhibitions on campus.  The subjects of these exhibitions range across the many disciplines represented by the College of Liberal Arts and commemorate significant events in local, national, and global history and contemporary society.  The exhibitions are curated by program faculty, working in collaboration with other faculty and staff in the College of Liberal Arts and throughout RIT, and in partnership with organizations in the region, members of the Greater Rochester community.  The exhibitions also involve RIT students, both those majoring in Museum Studies and others enrolled in program courses, who work independently and in teams to develop ancillaries as well as to facilitate visitor engagement experiences.

Mobilizing America: Fighting WWI on the Homefront and the Battlefront

World War I began in Europe in 1914, but the United States maintained a policy of neutrality through the presidential election of 1916.  Woodrow Wilson’s successful reelection captured America’s isolationist stance in the campaign slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War.”  However, several events in early 1917 led to an American declaration of war on April 6, 1917.  In order to justify this reversal of policy, Wilson had to convince the public that war was unavoidable, patriotic, and moral.  One week later he created the Committee on Public Information (CPI), an agency dedicated to winning American hearts and minds to the cause of war through modern methods of mass persuasion.  It was headed by journalist George Creel, who after the war described the committee’s work as a “vast enterprise in salesmanship, the world’s greatest adventure in advertising.” 

The Committee on Public Information called on all Americans to take active roles in the war effort through one of three means: to enlist, to conserve, and/or to invest.  The posters in this exhibition focus on these messages and are similar to commercial advertising.  Not included in this exhibition are the more lurid, propagandistic posters illustrating real and invented German atrocities that were used to explain “why we fight.”  In an era before radio and television, the CPI wanted Americans to hear and see consistent messages repeated through all media: newspapers, newsreels, movies, public speakers, magazine ads, and posters.  Disseminating the message visually in public spaces was particularly important because not everyone was literate.  Producing visual media was the purview of the Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP), under the leadership of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson.  The twenty million posters they distributed were instrumental in mobilizing Americans to support the war effort both on the battlefront and the homefront.  

The Posters

Approximately three hundred painters, illustrators, sculptors, and cartoonists were members of the Division of Pictorial Publicity (DPP).  Most were classically trained artists whose imagery is drawn from traditional American painting, rather than influenced by contemporary European modernist design.  These artists, who were among the most famous of the day (typically earning between $1,000 and $10,000 per sketch), donated their work to the DPP.  The organization served the needs of many government departments and agencies, such as the Food Administration, the Marine Corps, the Signal Corps, the American Red Cross, War Savings Stamps, and the Liberty Loan drives.  In its twenty months of existence, the DPP printed more than twenty million copies of approximately 2,500 different posters, in addition to hundreds of car, bus, and store window cards, advertisements, seals, buttons, and banners.  Posters were an effective means of communication because they were eye-catching, used minimal text, and could be mass produced inexpensively due to advances in printing technologies.  They were also a familiar advertising tool.  This was the first time that posters were used for political purposes on a large scale in the U.S., and it was the first time that the arts were officially recognized for the role they played in shaping the public support necessary for victory.

Resistance, Rebellion, & Renewal in Rochester: Narratives of Progress and Poverty

In 1879, the political economist Henry George wrote Progress and Poverty, an investigation of the conundrum whereby highly developed societies with advanced material progress simultaneously evidence the deepest poverty.  Observing the same phenomenon in a speech in 2014, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said, “Rochester is a tale of two cities.  One city is vibrant, hopeful, wealthy, and highly livable.  The other suffers from escalating poverty, dysfunction, unemployment that is higher today than it was during the Great Depression—and a deficient educational system.” 

These two insights form the backbone of this exhibition, which examines more than one hundred years of Rochester’s history to illuminate the co-existence of wealth and progress with poverty and lack of opportunity.  In at least three separate periods, 1913, 1964, and 2015, these circumstances have spurred action in the form of resistance, rebellion, and renewal—while altogether jeopardizing the social fabric of the city.

This exhibition examines recurring contrasts between two different versions of Rochester—the one experienced by the marginalized and the other by the affluent—in its examination of the following contrasts: 

  • over-crowded, substandard housing in old city neighborhoods contrasted with the growth of new single-family homes and shopping plazas in the suburbs;
  • poor working conditions and high unemployment contrasted with plentiful skilled jobs at high-tech manufacturing companies;
  • marginalization, ghettoization, lack of ownership of homes and businesses contrasted with social integration and ownership of homes and businesses anywhere in the area;
  • lack of English language proficiency, poor or no education, and an absence of training for skilled jobs contrasted with language and work skills, higher education, and high-tech skills; and
  • insecurity, instability, victimization by violence, prejudice, and discrimination contrasted with security, safety, agency, and a sense of belonging.

While the situations in 1913 and 1964 demonstrated how affluent citizens and city officials were stunned when Rochesterians resorted to public action to express anger at their marginalization from the quality of life that had been promoted, today we are witnessing community leaders and citizens working together to ameliorate adverse conditions because, as Mayor Warren stated, “This divide has both immediate human consequences and short and long-term economic consequences.”   

Michael Brown, Ph.D., Museum Studies Program, Department of History
Tina Chapman DaCosta, M.F.A, Museum Studies Program, Department of Performing Arts & Visual Culture
Rebecca J. DeRoo, Ph.D., Museum Studies Program, Department of Performing Arts & Visual Culture
Juilee Decker, Ph.D., Museum Studies Program, Department of Performing Arts & Visual Culture
Rebecca Edwards, Ph.D., Museum Studies Program, Department of History
Tina Olsin Lent, Ph.D., Museum Studies Program, Department of Performing Arts & Visual Culture

Transcript of Testimony on the 2014-2015 Proposed New York State Executive Budget To the Joint Legislative Hearing of the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees Delivered by Mayor Lovely A. Warren on January 27, 2014

Kate Gleason Visionary: a tribute on her 150th birthday

Kate Gleason’s name is so familiar to everyone in the RIT community that it can obscure our recognition of her many and varied accomplishments.  Born in Rochester on 25 November 1865, she was an entrepreneur and innovator who became internationally recognized for her acumen in business promotion and community development.  Her interests were wide-ranging, spanning the fields of engineering, manufacturing, banking, and building.  Over the course of her career, she managed multiple businesses and factories, and was instrumental in the planning and construction of several communities, in East Rochester, NY, Beaufort, SC, Sausalito, CA, and Septmonts, France.  Her concerns for advancing the rights of women and the well-being of workers underlay all of her projects.  That her accomplishments exceeded the expectations of women of her day was recognized by Susan B. Anthony, who described Kate Gleason as the ideal business woman of whom she had dreamed for fifty years. 


Engineering was part of Kate Gleason’s life from the start.  She grew up around her father’s machine shop and in 1884 became the first woman to enroll in Cornell University’s Sibley College of Engineering and Mechanic Arts.  When called home to help the family business in 1885, she put her engineering knowledge to work, becoming a salesperson for the company’s machine tools and managing its finances.  As the American economy slumped in the 1890s, she encouraged the firm to develop its line of gear-cutting machines, which became essential to automobile production.  She also set sail to win customers for Gleason products in Europe, and her efforts helped place the business on solid ground.  Accounts of how she dazzled machinists with her detailed knowledge of bevel gears won her a sterling reputation and the company more business.  In 1914, Kate Gleason became the first woman elected to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.   


Building upon 30 years of successful administration and a career as a traveling sales agent for her father’s company, Kate Gleason disengaged from the gear business in 1915.  Like the bevel gear itself, she changed direction.  Her professional pursuits shifted from machine tooling to trailer manufacturing.  Such vehicles were adaptable for work or leisure due to their abilities to transport passengers, livestock, nursery goods, mail, and, of course, the commodity of Rochester’s “other” industry—pianos!  The trailer was also a site for enhancement, as well as technical advancement, as evidenced by her design for a “Hi-Speed Trailercar”—a camper that was “a practical and luxurious movable hotel on wheels,” offering the comforts of home.  By 1922, however, Gleason’s interest in trailers had waned and she sold the Northway Trailercar Company and moved on to other projects.  She never stopped thinking of ideas, claiming that “the greatest fun I have in life is building-up, trying to create.”   The projects she undertook in her middle years bear witness to her continued entrepreneurial spirit.   


After Kate Gleason was maneuvered out of her family’s business by her brothers, she found that other opportunities opened up to her in Rochester.  In 1916, Gleason and Harry C. Eyer, a friend, business colleague, and president of the First National Bank of East Rochester, purchased a thirty-acre tract of land and a thousand building lots in East Rochester, the proceeds of which helped to promote the development of the village.  When Eyer decided to go overseas to join the war effort in 1918, he recommended Gleason be appointed the president of the bank, making her the first female bank president without previous family ties to the institution.  As a bank president, it was her job to sign national bank notes, despite the fact that as a woman she could not yet legally vote.  She served as bank president for the duration of World War I and considered it part of her patriotic duty.  


In the 1910s and 1920s, Kate Gleason built a country club and more than one hundred homes in East Rochester.  Best known is Concrest, a community comprising more than fifty concrete homes, which she designed to be attractive, efficiently built, and affordable. She was inspired by her travels and created the homes to evoke cottages in European villages; she sited them on pastoral, winding streets, curving around a hill, and adjacent to a park.  These 20’ X 20’ houses, priced at $4000, provided a path to home ownership for workers, who could pay $40 a month for “a home with a deed, title, porch light, garage, fine view, fireplace, electricity, green grass, French windows….”  She used poured concrete to construct the homes as it was fireproof, economical, and durable—she wanted the homes to last one hundred years.  In 1921, Concrest was featured in the trade journal Concrete and in 1922, Kate Gleason became the first female member of the American Concrete Institute.


Kate Gleason’s career can be summed up by a list of “firsts” she accomplished.  She was the first woman enrolled in Cornell’s engineering program in 1884.  She was the first woman who qualified for membership in several professional engineering organizations in 1914, including Verein Deutscher Ingenieure, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the Rochester Engineering Society, as well as the American Concrete Institute in 1922.  Beyond this, she was the secretary and treasurer of Gleason Works from 1890-1913, while also serving as its chief sales representative.  She was very active in the development of East Rochester, building and managing eight factories, serving as the president of The First National Bank of East Rochester (1918-20), and overseeing the construction of more than 100 homes in developments including Concrest and Marigold Gardens.  She said that she wanted one thing, “…to demonstrate that a business woman can work as well as a man.”  Kate Gleason’s accomplishments in Rochester up to 1922, and the work she did elsewhere during the final decade of her life, attest to her success.

When Rochester Was Royal: Professional Basketball in Rochester 1945-1957

Exhibitions Across the Curriculum welcomes the participation of anyone on campus— faculty, staff, or student— who has an idea for an interdisciplinary exhibition or who is interested in having the experience of working on an exhibition.  In addition to the conceptualization, design, and implementation of the actual exhibit, the exhibitions are accompanied by ancillary events, ranging from gala openings, to lecture and film series, and pop-up events in various locations across campus.  Classes are invited to the exhibitions for private showings and conversations with the faculty curators.  Since 2015 websites, social media, scavenger hunts, and trivia games have accompanied the exhibitions, all of which are the result of student participation through their coursework. 

Conceived in 2013, the first Exhibition Across the Curriculum opened the following year as part of the international commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I in Europe.  Titled Mobilizing America: Fighting World I on the Homefront and Battlefront, the exhibition featured World War I posters borrowed from the Rochester Historical Society; it was on view in the University Gallery from January 27 through March 21, 2014.  This exhibition traveled to Lima, Peru, in August 2014 under the title The Great War and the Construction of American Citizenship.  Opening at the Universidad del  Pacifico on August 21, the exhibition and its keynote address, “Mobilizing American: World War I Posters and the Construction of American Identity,” were the opening events of an international conference commemorating the start of the war.  The second exhibition commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Rochester Riots.  Titled Resistance, Rebellion, and Renewal In Rochester: Narratives of Progress and Poverty, the exhibition explored more than 100 years of Rochester history to contextualize issues of income inequality and social mobility.  It was installed in the RIT Museum in The Wallace Center from April 9 through October 12, 2015.  The third exhibition, titled Kate Gleason Visionary: A Tribute on her 150th Birthday, focused on this well-known Rochester businesswoman for whom RIT’s College of Engineering was named.  This exhibition was displayed in the Sunken Gallery in The Wallace Center from November 19 through December 18, 2015. 

Future exhibitions include: When Rochester Was Royal: Professional Basketball in Rochester 1945-1957 in the Sunken Gallery from March 28 through April 22, 2016 and Far Away Places, which will open in the University Gallery in fall 2016. 

For more information contact: Prof. Tina Lent, Director of Museum Studies, tnlgsh@rit.edu