Public education has been the main focus of Lola Van Wagenen’s professional and intellectual life since 1970. Over the last 40 years she has both founded and served as executive officer, adviser, or board member for numerous educational and public interest organizations.
In 1970, Van Wagenen co-founded Consumer Action Now, a not-for-profit education organization in New York City. CAN established a variety of consumer-environmental education programs to demonstrate the relationship between consumer buying habits and the environment. For more than a decade she worked to advance environmental and women’s issues. For this work she received an Honorary Doctorate of Science from Pratt Institute.
In 1980 Van Wagenen began her academic career; she received her B.A. from Vermont College in 1982. In 1984 she finished her Master’s Degree in the Liberal Studies/Public History program at New York University. After completing her Ph.D. in American History in 1994 at NYU, Van Wagenen co-founded Clio Inc., Visualizing History. She hoped to integrate her experience in education and public interest with her academic background—to bring American history to a broad public audience and meet the growing need for innovative history education projects in multiple media platforms.
In 2002, Clio changed its corporate structure from a company that provided services and developed projects for clients to a not-for-profit organization that focuses exclusively on its own American history educational projects through documentary films, the World Wide Web and other new media projects. Van Wagenen currently produces Clio’s online exhibits, selecting each project and working directly with the authors and advisers.
For Clio, Van Wagenen served as an executive producer for Miss America: A Documentary Film, which aired on the PBS “American Experience” in January 2002 and December 2004. Clio also developed Catching the Shadow: Women at Photography in the 19th Century, which received scripting funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and ultimately became the basis for Clio's online photography exhibits. In 2003 her dissertation Sister-wives and Suffragists: Polygamy and the Politics of Woman Suffrage 1870-1896 was published by BYU Studies, at Brigham Young University. She served as executive producer for the film The State of Marriage, released in 2015.
Lola Van Wagenen has been appointed to a variety of national organizations and committees that work on behalf of women, children, history, and the environment. She has served as a commissioner for United Nations International Year of the Child, a board member for the U.S. Committee for UNICEF, and a board member for the National Audubon Society. For a decade she served as a trustee of the Vermont Historical Society and currently serves on the board of Shelburne Farms. In 2012, Van Wagenen received the Distinguished Alumni/Alumnae Achievement Award from the Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University.