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Votes for Women: A Visual History

February 1, 2020 to June 7, 2020
A group of women at the Wilmington train station departing for a suffrage demonstration in Washington, D.C., May 2, 1914. From the collection of Paul Preston Davis
A group of women at the Wilmington train station departing for a suffrage demonstration in Washington, D.C., May 2, 1914. From the collection of Paul Preston Davis
Hy Mayer, The Awakening, published in Puck February 20, 1915. Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Hy Mayer, The Awakening, published in Puck February 20, 1915. Image courtesy Library of Congress. 

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. 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 and 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 long been ignored. 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 celebration, but a window into contemporary visual discourse.

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