Origin of Concept

The Genesis of the Women’s International Study Center

The Women’s International Study Center held its founding ceremony on June 23, 2013 to inspire and enable women to achieve their goals.

While women have made great strides toward equality, they continue to earn less, own less, have fewer educational and economic opportunities. Their accomplishments and contributions are under­reported. They are under­represented in government, STEM careers, and leadership across most industries; women of color endure all these conditions most acutely. One of the types of fellowships that WISC likes to support is celebrating women’s accomplishments and achievements that have gone unrecognized in the past.

There is a dearth of residential fellowship opportunities for the study of or work by women in the arts, sciences, cultural preservation or business. This reality inspired the WISC founders to create the Fellows-in-Residence program, which provides scholars, artists, authors, and others to have “a room of their own”—residency in a fully furnished house on the Acequia Madre House grounds—to advance their work and engage with our community.

WISC has supported 56 individual fellows from 5 countries, covering a range of topics and disciplines of local and global interest. A Funding Grant will help us cover the expenses of managing the Fellows Program as well as expand the program to attract women interested in the Southwest especially in exploiting the archives of the Acequia Madre house.

As WISC celebrates its 5thAnniversary, we’ve taken a close look at our pastin order to enrich and assure the future of the Fellows Program. Focusing on our core Fellows program, which is unique in its range of participants and supported projects, became a clear path for WISC to take that would both carry out our large ambitions.

Acequia Madre House

The Women’s International Study Center is lucky to be located on the grounds of the historic Acequia Madre House.

Eva Scott Fényes (1849-1930), Leonora Scott Muse Curtin (1879-1972), and Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo (1903-1999)—mother, daughter, and granddaughter—were three visionary women, all ahead of their time, who would not be constrained by societal codes of the time. They were primarily self-taught, well read in diverse subjects, able to speak several languages fluently, and held a deep and abiding interest in world cultures. Collectively, as astute businesswomen with means to support their interests philanthropically, they contributed to the establishment of prominent cultural institutions in the United States and abroad still in existence today. Their mindful stewardship of the fortune they built together, now held in trust by their family Foundation, has allowed for continued support of these institutions focused on the arts, humanities, and sciences that they supported during their lifetimes and that are today open for scholars researching in these fields as well as for the public’s enjoyment.

These three generations of women whose lives spanned 150 years of the 19th and 20th centuries together designed, built, and made their homes at Acequia Madre House® in Santa Fe, New Mexico, an estate that still stands today much the same as it was when completed in 1926. Designated special museum status by the City of Santa Fe, Acequia Madre House® holds the women’s treasured collection of books, art, furniture, and textiles as well as tens of thousands of photographs and letters capturing the stories of their lives as lived in the Southwest and around the world from 1849-1999.

Independent of their shared skills and interests, each woman also excelled in her own focus area. Mrs. Fényes was a talented artist whose watercolor paintings capturing landscapes and architecture of the West and Southwest during the turn of the 19th century are now in the permanent collection of the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. Mrs. Curtin was a keen ethnobotanist whose landmark study during the first several decades of the 20th century on the antecedents to and practices in the herbal traditions of Northern New Mexico remains an invaluable resource to herbalists today. And Mrs. Paloheimo was a skilled linguistic researcher and visionary social philanthropist whose 1930s recordings of Native American Indian languages and songs are held in the collection of the Library of Congress, whose work with Northern New Mexico artisans during the depression evolved into robust cultural institutions and celebrations still thriving today, and who along with her husband founded El Ranch de las Golondrinas, the Southwest’s premier living history museum.

Together, in the words of historians Virginia Scharff and Carolyn Brucken, Eva Scott Fényes, Leonora Scott Muse Curtin, and Leonora Frances Curtin Paloheimo formed a “remarkable female dynasty” unlike any other. They built and stewarded their fortunes on their own terms, and through their studies and philanthropic work made a profound impact on our ability to research and enjoy what might otherwise today be unknown facets of Finnish and American Southwest cultural heritage the late 19th and early 20th centuries.