Two Docents “Pinned” for 40 Years of Service to the National Museum of American History

April 17, 2010
As part of its annual docent ceremony, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will honor Jane Dunphy and Barbara Lowis Lehmann May 6 as they receive 40-year pins to celebrate their service to the museum.

In interviews for docent positions, Dunphy mentioned she was interested in 18th-century America and Lehmann in agriculture. Both women were considered a good fit for the museum, and 40 years later they still have their place. Dunphy and Lehmann have both served as Docent Council Chair during their tenure and have remained involved with the Docent Council many years after. Ever committed to serving the public, Dunphy and Lehmann have used their volunteer work to share knowledge with the public while gaining some themselves.

Jane Dunphy

In search of work that combined her love of children with her love of history, Dunphy responded to a newspaper ad calling for Smithsonian volunteers. “When I stopped working at the Department of Commerce, I thought that maybe I should have been a teacher,” said Dunphy. “But I’ve gotten to do exactly what I wanted to do.”

Dunphy began her docent career conducting school tours through the “Road Vehicles Hall,” a precursor to what is now the museum’s new transportation exhibit “America on the Move.” Her favorite school tours consisted of young children, who she found were very interested in vehicles such as carriages, automobiles and locomotives when prompted by the right questions.

She continued to lead school groups through the museum while combining her interest in 18th-century American life in the two former exhibits “After the Revolution: Everyday Life in America, 1780-1800” and “1776.” While the museum was closed for renovations from 2006 to 2008, Dunphy joined fellow museum docents at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum serving visitors at the “Treasures of American History” exhibit.

Currently conducting public “highlight” tours of the museum, Dunphy continues to learn while encouraging visitors to become enthusiastic about history.

A Washington-area native, Dunphy grew up in Arlington where she now lives, and she volunteers Thursday mornings at the museum.

Barbara Lowis Lehmann

“When my youngest child went to school, I needed something to do,” said Lehmann of her beginnings at the museum. Now in her 40th year as a docent, Lehmann remains committed to detail and serving the public.

At a young age Lehmann realized that she had more fun in the shop with her father than in the kitchen with her mother. Her early experience with machines and tools transcended through the years, helping Lehmann find her niche at the museum. She served as the docent in the museum’s “Engines of Change: The American Industrial Revolution, 1790-1860” exhibit where she was able to engage with visitors and give details about the machines she knew so well.

“I’m here to serve the public and kids,” she said. “I like to go into detail instead of making things seem artificial.”

With the “Engines of Change” exhibit now closed, Lehmann currently works in “America on the Move.” She also worked in the former “Hall of Agriculture” and with the “Math and Measurement” exhibit. She also spent many years conducting school tours focused on the Industrial Revolution.

Originally from central Illinois, Lehmann attended the University of Illinois where she obtained two degrees in education and business education. In 1963, she and her family moved to the Washington, D.C. area. She currently lives in Rockville, Md.

The National Museum of American History collects, preserves and displays American heritage in the areas of social, political, cultural, scientific and military history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, the museum explores stories of freedom and justice, both in Washington and online. To learn more about the museum, check http://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000, (202) 633-5285 (TTY).