This week the 19th Amendment, granting American women the right to vote, turned 95. To commemorate the victory, we’re continuing the tradition of the tenacious suffragettes. Join us tonight at 7 pm for PoeticJustice: A Performance, where three generations of New York activist artists will take the stage to perform their social justice-inspired poetry. The program is presented in collaboration with our ongoing exhibition, Art as Activism, which also showcases enduring themes in American political history immortalized through art.
In the years after the American Revolution, some states allowed landed, property-owning women the right to vote. However, with the emergence of the “separate spheres” ideology in the early 19th century, women were systematically cast out of the voting booth and relegated to the home.
Today the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention is remembered as the beginning of the American Women’s Suffrage Movement, when about 300 attendees including the esteemed Frederick Douglass met in Upstate New York to discuss “the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” But the push for enfranchisement didn’t reach a fever pitch until the early 20th century. As the largest American city, New York became a hub for the burgeoning movement.
One of the early parades for the vote in New York City: Women’s Suffrage Study Club Division, followed by The Men’s League for Woman Suffrage. New-York Historical Society, 53389.
Though hard for us to imagine in 2015, in the 1900s, it was rare for women to travel outside the home without a male chaperone. Thus the simple act of marching in the streets was in itself revolutionary.
Society Women Play Prominent Part in “Wake Up America” Demonstration.; April 19, 1917. New-York Historical Society, 40523.
After-dark processions were particularly impactful. As Dr. Lauren Santangelo explained, “Visually, parading at night created a stunning image of unity and purpose. But, because of gendered notions of safety and propriety in the city, it also served to underscore women’s willingness to sacrifice bodily comfort for a larger political purpose.”
[suffrage parade]; by Jessie Tarbox Beals, 1915. New-York Historical Society, 83890d.
After decades of demonstrations and rallies, World War I helped pave the way for women’s suffrage. By the war’s end in 1918, more than 30,000 women had answered the call of duty and served in the American military. Many of those who did not volunteer took on new responsibilities outside the home—in factories and on farms across the United States.
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, ARC 530720.
And on August 18, 1920, after the 36th state (Tennessee) ratified the proposed amendment, it became law. From coast to coast, women rang in this watershed victory with public and private celebrations. In the coming elections, they took to the polls for the first time. As a majority, today women often cast the deciding votes in local, state, and national elections.
Unidentified maker, Women’s Political Union suffrage pennant, ca. 1913. Wool felt. New-York Historical Society, The Elizabeth B. Dater and William Mitchell Jennings, Jr., Fund, 2015.36