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Sunday, May 16, 2021

The Matheson Museum reopens with showcase of county female trailblazers

The exhibition opened to the public April 2

The Matheson History Museum sits on East University Avenue on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The museum will open on Friday after a yearlong shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Matheson History Museum sits on East University Avenue on Tuesday, March 30, 2021. The museum will open on Friday after a yearlong shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Old newspaper articles, portraits and personal drawings, pictures and notes highlighting the lives and accomplishments of 11 Alachua County female trailblazers can be found at the Matheson History Museum.

The exhibit, located inside the museum at 513 E University Ave., was set to open last March, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the unveiling. Now, after a yearlong shutdown, the downtown museum reopened Friday at 1 p.m.

The exhibit, titled “Trailblazers: 150 Years of Alachua County Women,” celebrates women who impacted the county during their lifetimes. Mackenzie Pizzio, a 22-year-old UF History and Women’s Studies senior, assembled the collection after she interned at the museum last year. She drew inspiration from women who lived in Alachua County before her.

Available online and in person, the exhibit features Alachua County women diverse in age, background, education, lifetime and accomplishments. 

When she chose who to feature in the exhibit, Pizzio wanted to recognize achievements that bettered the lives of county residents. She wanted to show  every day actions can make a difference in other’s lives.

“I wanted to make sure that the exhibit reflected the lived experiences of women,” Pizzio said. 

The early stages of planning the exhibit took place in her notebook in the winter of 2019, where she had five to six lined pages of names with potential women to feature. Over time, she narrowed the list to a single page. 

Though she wanted to feature all of the women from her notebook, Pizzio prioritized reflecting a range of experiences through historical records and artifacts.

The museum will offer pre-reserved tours of the 1867 Matheson house, one of the three oldest residences in Gainesville, to groups of three people or fewer. The museum will open with limited hours from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday indefinitely.

Museum Curator Kaitlyn Hof-Mahoney is excited to welcome museum visitors, starting with a capacity of 12 people in the museum at once. 

“We've really been thinking hard about how we can open safely, both for our staff and volunteers and for the public,” Hof-Mahoney said. “And we just want people to know that we are so excited to be able to welcome them back physically to the museum.”

Led by Hof-Mahoney, the museum’s staff has been working on a COVID-19 community archive, street exhibit and digital exhibit. She highlighted a neon sign art piece created by artist Sylvie Harris displayed outside the museum in October. 

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Among the 11 women featured in Pizzio’s exhibit is Daphne Duval Williams, the first Black woman to enroll in classes at UF in 1959. 

When Duval Williams finished her degree, she reflected on her experience and according to the Matheson exhibit, she wanted to prove that contrary to what society had tried to teach her, Black and white students were equally intelligent. 

According to information from the exhibit, she later became the first female administrator at Lincoln High School, which is now Lincoln Middle School. She was a co-founder of the Visionaries, an organization created to foster civic, cultural and social affairs for Black people in Gainesville. 

Among other things, Williams helped register voters, held workshops and provided health assistance to community members in need, according to information from the museum placards. 

Today, Williams is remembered as a go-getter and trailblazer who paved the way for Gainesville women.

At the entrance to the physical exhibit, a quote read: “I was a woman, so I persisted. ”

Pizzio echoed the sentiment. 

“The motto for our research process was finding these bold women persisted despite their circumstances, or in spite of their circumstances,” Pizzio said.

Contact Emil Munksgaard Grosen at emgrosen@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @EmilMunkGrosen.

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Emil Munksgaard Grosen

Emil Munksgaard Grosen is a news assistant for The Alligator and a sophomore who plans to double major in political science and public relations. Interested in civil rights and political communication, he dreams of becoming a lawyer and humanitarian. 


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