Leaders at the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls published an open letter after a pair of recent headlines drew criticism from some members of the community.
The letter, authored by the Hall of Fame’s CEO Jennifer Gabriel, addressed the ‘mixed feelings’ after an announcement that the museum would be closing for the winter — and it’s 2024 induction ceremony would be moved to New York City.
The latter is an event that has been a mainstay in Seneca Falls for much of the Hall’s history.
“News has broken, and by now you know that the National Women’s Hall of Fame plans to hold the 2024 Induction Ceremony in New York City in March,” Gabriel’s letter begins. “I knew this venue change would be met with mixed feelings in the community. Naturally when weighing this decision, my board of directors, staff and I certainly anticipated — and discussed at length — that our most loyal constituents might feel confused and disappointed by it. This was not a choice made lightly or impulsively, nor without our neighbors and supporters top of mind. Seneca Falls has been — and always will be — the home of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. It is well understood by me, the Board and our staff that the Hall would not exist, nor would have ever existed, without the tremendous support of both Seneca Falls and many Central New York communities. Preserving the history of the region and securing the legacies of American women matters to us, just as much as it does to these generous benefactors and the community that houses the Hall.”
Gabriel says the stakes are high, and calls the Hall’s obligations ‘serious’.
“For these very reasons, we have a serious obligation. This obligation includes protecting the substantial investment of time, talent and treasure that countless people in Central New York have made to the Hall over the past 50 years. We must ensure the long-term sustainability of this organization and not expect our regional community to be the sole source of its viability,” she continued. “We must increase access to the Hall and share its stories of women’s achievement, perseverance and hope with a nation that needs these stories more than ever. We must protect the incredible investment of public dollars that allows for the continued renovation and restoration of the Seneca Knitting Mill so that it does not shutter and fall into disrepair again. We must secure Seneca Falls’ inimitable place in supercharging the women’s rights movement on a national stage as other major metropolitan areas establish attractions to highlight women across the country. We must inspire and motivate more Americans to visit and experience Seneca Falls – our wonderful hamlet of history – and the National Women’s Hall of Fame.”
Gabriel says the goal of the Hall is to encourage people to visit Seneca Falls to experience the rich history of women’s rights. However, she notes that maintaining viability is essential. “It is our goal that as we expand the voice of these stories of American women, we help further cement Seneca Falls as a pilgrimage site for visitors interested in learning about the roots of a movement so many Americans are deeply invested in,” she continued. “This goal, however, is a fantasy if the Hall cannot continue to keep our doors open and afford to curate exhibits to draw visitors in. The reality is that the Hall is sustained by donations. Revenue from foot traffic through the current museum and gift shop covers less than 5% of our annual budget. No business can survive in that climate, and we acknowledge it would be unfair – and unrealistic — to ask the local community to shoulder the financial burden of keeping the Hall open alone.”
Gabriel says that by hosting the induction ceremony in New York City — broadcasting it on public television to communities across the U.S. — the operational obligations, and others will be met.
“We will leverage this larger venue and high population density of potential attendees to increase awareness to individuals who perhaps never would have otherwise known of the Hall’s existence. We will leverage public television’s unparalleled level of visibility to highlight the rich beauty and history of Seneca Falls, to further attract tourists who otherwise may not have ever made the connection between The National Women’s Hall of Fame and its home of Seneca Falls,” Gabriel continued. “To that end, we have appointed Tricia Fitzmaurice, a Seneca Falls native and member of our Board of Directors, to our Advisory Council as our Board Ambassador to the Seneca Falls community. Tricia is assembling a committee that will be responsible for ensuring that there is continued sharing of information regarding the Hall’s strategic plan with the Seneca Falls community and that the Seneca Falls’ systemic relationship with the Hall remains front and center throughout the 2024 Ceremony.”
Closing out the letter — Gabriel pleaded with the community for partnership and enthusiastic support as the Hall moves forward with its operational plan. “This change, if embraced, can bring even more vibrancy to the place the National Women’s Hall of Fame will forever call its home.”