The Hagan internship honors a history lover's legacy with a focus on women's history

By Lauren Collette
Bette and Jim Hagan, 1980

With each new season, a new crop of interns comes to the National Museum of American History. Two museum supporters, Bette and Lindsey Hagan, created the James Lollar Hagan Internship, in honor of Bette's late husband and Lindsey's father. I spoke with Bette and Lindsey Hagan to learn more about their connection to the museum and inspiration in creating this opportunity.

How did you first get involved with the museum?

Lindsey: In 2007, while in a graduate history program, I applied for an internship at the museum. I felt that the experience would enhance my education and that it would be a perfect fit with my background. After interning in the Office of Public Affairs and the Office of Public Programs, I returned as a fellow and then later as a contractor. As you can imagine, I loved working with the dynamic staff members and working with history as opposed to simply studying history.

Photo of a couple

Besides Lindsey's connection to the museum, what else inspired you to create an internship opportunity?

Bette: First of all, Jim was an avid historian. He also felt that education is the most important thing you can provide another individual because knowledge is something that can never be taken away. Lindsey and I felt that an internship at the museum not only provides a wonderful opportunity to an individual, but in return that individual creates a legacy that furthers the public's education by way of the Smithsonian. It was a way to honor what my husband believed in.

I personally think providing opportunities for the next generation is crucial. School experiences are wonderful, but an internship broadens a student's exposure to how he/she might relate what is learned in school to his/her community. It isn't just about gaining the knowledge, it is about learning how to share that knowledge with others. The Smithsonian was established with that same principle and we wanted to help carry out that mission. Based on this and Lindsey's wonderful experience, we decided on a gift that would support future interns.

Once you became more familiar with the museum, was there something special you learned about or gained better perspective on?

Bette: It is important for the public to realize that the museum isn't simply a place to observe objects. It has become an epicenter for creating conversations and experiences reflecting our American history and culture.

I spend much of my time volunteering at a wounded veterans retreat and it gives me the opportunity to truly see the American spirit. For me, this museum also exhibits that same spirit. The National Museum of American History tells the stories of the many people and experiences that make our country wonderful, rich, and diverse.

Lindsey Hagan in graduation gown, smiling

Lindsey: It is my belief that the museum has a responsibility to our nation and the world at large to start conversations about American identity and to examine what that means in the past, present, and future. Museums that focus solely on object-based learning face the real possibility of becoming obsolete. The museum is working in dynamic ways, from the wonderful exhibitions put together by curatorial staff to online and public engagement programs. Furthermore, the Smithsonian is active in broadening its global footprint and its role in making museums vibrant and viable for generations to come.

Patri O'Gan and Leah Tams were the first two Hagan interns and spent their internship working on compiling the museum's and Smithsonian's resources. O'Gan created an online resource for the museum's women's history collection and Tams created an online object group centered on Women in World War I. Can you speak about your experience in getting to know these women and how you feel about the work they produced during their internship?

Bette: I am thrilled to be meeting bright, interested young people who are upholding the Smithsonian's mission. They are sharing with me the innovative ways in which they are reaching out to their peers and the public.

I am truly amazed at the scope of their projects and what they have accomplished during their time here. The amount of information they had to gather, organize, and correlate was vast, and it shows their devotion to the research and projects. I also think it speaks to what Lindsey mentioned before about creating a meaningful, global impact. These websites exist now as a catalyst for the collections and resources to be used as part of global conversations. I have spent time on both of their websites and look forward to continuing my exploration.

Bette Hagan, smiling

What has your overall experience been with supporting the museum through the Hagan internship?

Bette: My experience with the museum has been incredibly rewarding. Not only did my daughter gain invaluable experience here as an intern, but because of my late husband’s love for history, it has given me a continued connection to him.

Bette and Lindsey's passion for history and the museum inspired them to create the Hagan internship, which provided the essential funding to support individuals who help the museum preserve its national treasures. To learn more about the Hagan internship, visit us online. To learn more about how to create opportunities like this, contact Lauren Collette, Office of External Affairs, at