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The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which granted women the right to vote—although many voting struggles persisted for minority groups. The long road to women’s suffrage, spanning the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, played out very differently from political movements today. In the absence of televised and digital media, the suffragists spread their message through magazines, political cartoons, posters, plays, parades, and even through fashion. This exhibition will examine the visual culture of the suffrage movement, revealing how the “look” of women’s rights developed along with the important visual strategies that propelled the campaign.
Votes for Women: A Visual History will include drawings, illustrations, and posters from museums, historical societies, and private collections that visualize the complex political messages conveyed by suffragists. Also included will be historic photographs of marches, rallies, and the celebrated procession in Washington DC held in March of 1913. Examples of the costumes, clothing, sashes, and other emblems of women’s activism worn by suffragists will enliven the presentation, drawing comparisons between the representations and realities of women’s struggle to win the vote.
The exhibition will present a more inclusive historical narrative, recognizing the efforts of women of color and their community networks, which have been largely overlooked. The visual lessons of the suffrage movement provided a model for later activism, including the civil rights and social justice movements up to the present day, making this not just a centennial commemoration, but a window into contemporary discourse.