As UNO prepared for its Centennial Anniversary in 2008, Dr. Maher found herself on a taskforce with friend and colleague, Dr. Deborah Smith-Howell. As they leafed through archive pictures stored in the UNO library, Dr. Maher was awed by the multitude of photographs from early in UNO’s history that showed women studying and learning. In the early 1900s, women lived in a culture that discouraged their attendance at college. Dr. Maher was fascinated with the documentation that showed women furthering their education despite social mores. That is when the idea came to her—what if, during this spirit of commemoration, we honor those women who regularly negotiated barriers in order to achieve their dreams of a higher education? Originally, Dr. Maher envisioned one hundred profiles—one for each year of UNO’s history—believing this was an innovative way to highlight the history of these women, the UNO campus, and the state of Nebraska. Thus, the Women’s Archive Project (WAP) was born.
As a self-described “ideas” person, Dr. Maher immediately collaborated with other people who could carry this idea to fruition. One of the first people Dr. Maher turned to was Peter Sather, the Director of the Service Learning Academy. Since the SLA already promoted collaborative approaches to projects that involve academic learning, the WAP would fit nicely with their mission. Additionally, Dr. Maher turned to Dr. Karen Falconer Al-Hindi, Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. Both of these groups offered to help implement projects into their curriculums as a means of encouraging and promoting these profiles, and soon, students began writing some of the first profiles. Dr. Maher believes the project was transformative for the original students who worked on these early profiles. It was important for these students to see the intergenerational connection with women who could have been their grandmothers. Dr. Maher was especially intrigued by the stories that surfaced through this archival research, stories about women who wanted so badly to have the same education that a man could have that they would cleverly work around various obstacles. For example, one woman loved science but because women were not encouraged to major in fields that were traditionally reserved for men, she majored in home economics instead. It may not have been the study this woman originally craved, but she was able to share her love of science with the students she encountered while teaching home economics.
The WAP was just taking root when Dr. Maher left UNO to accept a new position. Dr. Tammie M. Kennedy and Dr. Tracy Bridgeford have become the co-editors of the archive and, as Dr. Maher states, “It’s in good hands.” The WAP began to look like Dr. Maher had originally envisioned it to be—an interactive, digital archive where visitors can learn about women’s contributions to UNO and the larger community. Co-editors Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Bridgeford unveiled the updated website in the fall of 2012 with a special premiere. Meant to be collaborative from the start, Dr. Maher never intended the archive to be closed but hoped it would grow as more women left their mark on UNO’s campus. Perhaps the next one hundred years will provide students with more women who use a post-secondary education to spur them to greatness.
In July of 2010, Dr. Maher accepted a position with the University of Minnesota-Duluth as the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. (University of Minnesota Duluth) Although leaving UNO after nearly twenty years was bittersweet, Maher looked forward to new challenges. As Dr. Maher advises, “Expect to have a varied and unpredictable career path in this globalized world and know that knowledge of all kinds of things is probably your best ticket to a successful future.” Besides her duties at Duluth, Dr. Maher is currently working on a book titled Deep Map Country: The Literary Cartography of the Great Plains that is set to be published in early 2014. The book analyzes nonfiction writers of the Great Plains and the central and north plains, from Loren Eiseley and Wallace Stegner to modern writers William Least-Heat Moon, Julene Bair,