Numismanels: Why are there Still almost All-Male Events Happening in Numismatics?

By The American Numismatic Society


While August means for most people weekends on the beach, long summer days, or just hanging out, numismatists look forward to their annual pilgrimage to some convention center in places such as Rosemont, right next to O’Hare Airport. I refer of course to the annual World’s Fair of Money, hosted by the American Numismatic Association, which was supposed to be in Pittsburgh this year. I have been going to this event for more than two decades, missing only a couple of shows. Over the years, one gets used to the routine: the same hotels, the same Hawaiian shirts that good friends from New York suddenly wear when they show up at the Summer ANA, visiting with numismatic friends. “Visiting with”: that wonderful American, almost untranslatable phrase into English. I really miss our annual show right now.

I got used to the fact that women are very much in the minority in this setting. There are a lot of theories why this is the case. Women do not collect, or if they do collect, one hears, they collect coins, but only to an extent, as my many years in this field have shown me to be true. Women collectors—and even a few women dealers exist—but they have to fight for their place. However, all major numismatic organizations—the American Numismatic Association, the American Numismatic Society, and the National Numismatic Collections at the Smithsonian—were all run by women until last year, when I stepped down as Executive Director. Kim Kiick at the helm of the ANA has brought some much-needed calm and stability to an institution that had seen, prior to her appointment in 2013, more turnover in the position than I can remember; all but one (Ruthann Brettell) were men. Ellen Feingold in the Smithsonian seems to have an entirely female department. The American Numismatic Society has had female curators and librarians since it very first appointment, from Agnes Baldwin Brett, Margaret Thompson, Nancy Waggoner, Rose Chan Houston, Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, Elizabeth Hahn Benge, and today Elena Stolyarik and Lucia Carbone. Over a century of women in numismatics, with research to show for it, as the many feet of publications on today’s library shelves illustrate. Coin World in its heyday was run by two formidable editors for more than 50 years: Margo Russell and Beth Deisher. Barbara Gregory just completed 32 years as editor-in-chief of The Numismatist. So, it is hard to argue that there are no women in numismatics, who can think and write, know about coins, and run institutions.

If you have read this far, you might wonder why I am writing about this now. Sadly, there is no ANA Money Show, but this is made up by a large number of virtual events that are normally held in conjunction with the World’s Fair of Money. Last week, an announcement for the first event made me raise my eyebrows when it arrived in my inbox: the Sundman Lecture Series on Women in Numismatics, run as a Webinar, has a group of lecturers, with some fascinating topics, but one lonely woman speaker, the rest all men. Really?

In addition to all this, one of the titles “Leading Ladies of Rome” has the ring of a 1940s movie, but not of a serious lecture about powerful empresses. Note to all men: the term “lady” annoys most women and is perhaps best used only when you are giving a formal speech somewhere and open with “ladies and gentlemen” or when used as a courtesy title (think First Lady of the United States) or in specific reference to fine manners (without patronizing overtones).

I was not the only woman (or man) in numismatics to notice the oddity, and perhaps irony, about a lecture series and the male group of presenters. I thought I would ignore this for now, but then a second such event was announced: this time a truly massive “manference”, no less organized by the Newman Numismatic Portal. Do not get me wrong, this is an impressive event, and I love the organization and everything it supports. But does such an all-male event send the right signal to our field, including women and younger people? Manels (“male panels” for those not familiar with the term), as such events are known nowadays, should be a thing of the past by now. When I sent a draft of this blog text to Len Augsburger, he was very understanding to reach out to women and a more diverse audience. However, he points out that the NNP only funds this event. It was organized by the firm called Numismatic Marketing, which is run by a woman. Len also told me that women could have applied as speakers and that it was widely advertised. He has a point here. Women often just do not want to participate in these events, and the question is why. Clearly things need to change.

If numismatics wants to attract a wider audience, our organizations have to try to include more women and minorities, who often feel excluded from events such as coin shows, coin clubs, and our organizations. I know how difficult it is to bring women to numismatic events. What I have always heard is that there are just too many men. So, let’s try do better next time. There are plenty of women researchers in numismatics, even if they do not shout as loud as the men. Let’s not have another numismanel.