NEW-YORK HISTORICAL SOCIETY LEAPS INTO ELECTION YEAR
WITH EXHIBITIONS FOREGROUNDING PILLARS OF AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Free Admission to Civics Exhibitions for College Students Through 2020
NEW YORK, NY – January 21, 2020 – As election year 2020 begins, the New-York Historical Society launches a series of special exhibitions that address the cornerstones of citizenship and American democracy. Starting on Presidents’ Day Weekend, visitors to Meet the Presidents will discover how the role of the president has evolved since George Washington with a re-creation of the White House Oval Office and a new gallery devoted to the powers of the presidency. Opening on the eve of Women’s History Month, Women March marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment with an immersive celebration of 200 years of women’s political and social activism. Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic explores the important roles state constitutions have played in the history of our country, while The People Count: The Census in the Making of America documents the critical role played by the U.S. Census in the 19th century—just in time for the 2020 Census.
To encourage first-time voters to learn about our nation’s history and civic as they get ready to vote in the presidential election, New-York Historical Society offers free admission to the exhibitions above to college students with ID through 2020, an initiative supported, in part, by History®. This special program allows college students to access New-York Historical’s roster of upcoming exhibitions that explore the pillars of American democracy as they prepare to vote, most of them for the first time.
“The year 2020 is a momentous time for both the past and future of American politics, as the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, coincides with both a presidential election and a census year,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of New-York Historical. “This suite of complementary exhibitions showcases the ideas and infrastructure behind our American institutions that establish and protect our fundamental rights to make our voices heard and opinions count. We hope that all visitors will come away with a wider understanding of the important role each citizen plays in our democracy.”
Meet the Presidents
February 14 – ongoing
Opening on Presidents’ Day Weekend, a special permanent gallery on New-York Historical’s fourth floor features a detailed re-creation of the White House Oval Office, where presidents have exercised their powers, duties, and responsibilities since 1909. Visitors to New-York Historical can explore the Oval Office, hear audio recordings of presidential musings, and even sit behind a version of the President’s Resolute Desk for a photo op.
Presidents can furnish the Oval Office to suit their own tastes, and this re-creation evokes the decor of President Ronald Reagan’s second term, widely considered a classic interpretation of Oval Office design. The Resolute Desk, which has been used by almost every president, was presented by Queen Victoria of England in friendship to President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880. The original was made from timbers from the British Arctic explorer ship H.M.S. Resolute, which was trapped in the ice, recovered by an American whaling ship, and returned to England. Other elements reminiscent of the Reagan-era on view include a famous jar of jelly beans, an inspirational plaque reading “It can be done,” and artist Frederic Remington’s Bronco Buster bronze sculpture of a rugged cowboy fighting to stay on a rearing horse. The architecture and furnishings for the Oval Office exhibit were researched and designed by PBDW Architects in coordination with New-York Historical curators.
The Meet the Presidents Gallery traces, through artwork and objects, the evolution of the presidency and executive branch and how presidents have interpreted and fulfilled their leadership role. Highlights include the actual Bible used during George Washington’s inauguration in 1789 and a student scrapbook from 1962 chronicling JFK’s leadership during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Meet the Presidents is curated by Marci Reaven, vice president of history exhibits, and Lily Wong, assistant curator.
February 28 – August 30
For as long as there has been a United States, women have organized to shape the nation’s politics and secure their rights as citizens. Their collective action has taken many forms, from abolitionist petitions to industry-wide garment strikes to massive marches for an Equal Rights Amendment. Women March celebrates the centennial of the 19th Amendment—which granted women the right to vote in 1920—as it explores the efforts of a diverse array of women to expand American democracy in the centuries before and after the suffrage victory. On view in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery, Women March is curated by Valerie Paley, the director of the Center for Women’s History and New-York Historical senior vice president and chief historian, with the Center for Women’s History curatorial team. The immersive exhibition features imagery and video footage of women’s collective action over time, drawing visitors into a visceral engagement with the struggles that have endured into the 21st century.
The exhibition begins with the many ways women asserted political influence long before they even demanded the vote. Objects and images demonstrate how they risked criticism for speaking against slavery, signed petitions against Indian Removal, raised millions to support the Civil War, and protested reduced wages and longer days. A riveting recreation of an 1866 speech by African American suffragist and activist Frances Harper demonstrates the powerful debates at women’s rights conventions. Absence of the vote hardly prevented women from running for political office: one engaging item on display is a campaign ribbon for Belva Lockwood, the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court, who won around 4,000 votes in her own presidential bid.
Multiple perspectives on the vote, including African American and working-class activism, are explored, upending popular assumptions that suffragists were a homogenous group. The 19th Amendment is hailed as a crucial step forward, but recognized as an incomplete victory. One photograph shows an African American women’s voter group in Georgia circa 1920, formed despite wide disenfranchisement, and another shows women of the League of Women Voters who sought to make suffragists’ goals real with legislation that addressed issues such as public health and child welfare. A digital interactive monitor invites visitors to explore the nuances of voting laws concerning women across the entire United States.
Offering an examination of women’s activism in the century after the Amendment, the exhibition concludes by showing how women engaged with issues such as safe workplaces, civil rights, reproductive justice, and freedom from violence. Photographs and video footage of women building warships, boycotting segregation, urging voters to register, and marching for the Equal Rights Amendment convey the urgency of their desire for full citizenship. The dynamism of women’s collective action continues to the present day with handmade signs from the 2017 Women’s Marches and footage of a variety of marches and speeches on topics ranging from reproductive justice to indigenous peoples’ rights to climate change. Visitors can also learn about many individuals who have been instrumental in women’s activism over the past 200 years in an interactive display compiled by New-York Historical’s Teen Leaders program. Meanwhile, young visitors can explore the exhibition with a special family guide.
Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions
February 28 – May 31
America has been singular among nations in fostering a vibrant culture of engagement with constitutional matters and the fundamental principles of government. Featuring more than 40 books and documents from the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation’s collection, Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic illuminates America’s continuing debates on the role and limits of government and the fundamental rights of all citizens. From the early days of the American Revolution, to the American Civil War, to the eve of World War I, the rare and early printings of state and federal constitutions trace defining moments in American history and are testaments to our nation’s continuing experiment in self-government and the relentless quest for improvement.
Among the highlights on view is a rare example of the original Dunlap and Claypoole 1787 printing of the U.S. Constitution—one of few surviving copies. Manuscripts, such as the first known description of the Great Seal of America from 1782 and a certified 1802 handwritten copy of the 12th Amendment that altered the system for electing the president and vice president are also on view. The Choctaw Nation Constitution of 1838, written by members of the tribe forcibly relocated from Mississippi to Oklahoma, combines American constitutional forms with traditional practices in an effort to preserve self-government and prevent further violations of their fundamental rights. The Constitution of the Republic of Texas (1836) sanctioned slavery and led the United States to initially decline Texas’ requests for annexation; the inclusion of slavery in the Missouri Constitution of 1820 also led to a bitter fight in Congress to deny Missouri admission to the union. The progressive Louisiana Constitution of 1868 of the Civil War Reconstruction period prohibited segregation of schools by race. Kansas was the first of more than 30 states to prohibit alcohol with the Kansas State Prohibition Amendment of 1880, eventually leading to national Prohibition through the 18th Amendment in 1919. The Wyoming Constitution of 1889 declared that “male and female citizens” could exercise all rights equally, including the right “to vote and hold office”—three decades before federal ratification of the 19th Amendment. The bilingual New Mexico Constitution of 1910—Constitution of the State of New Mexico/Constitucion del Estado de Nuevo Mexico—guaranteed that all laws, including the constitution, would be published in both English and Spanish for at least 20 years.
Colonists, Citizens, Constitutions: Creating the American Republic also includes a selection of songs from WNYC’s Radio Lab “27: The Most Perfect Album,” in which contemporary musicians were asked to interpret the 27 amendments of the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights in their own distinctive style with original new music. Musicians include Flor de Toloache, Sons of an Illustrious Father, Nana Grizol, Dolly Parton, and Caroline Shaw. The full album was conceived by the podcast More Perfect, a production of WNYC Studios, and is available for free online.
This exhibition is the first public viewing of these selected historical documents together, and after its run at New-York Historical, it travels to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia (June 12 – July 5, 2020). Curated by James F. Hrdlicka of Arizona State University with Michael Ryan, New-York Historical vice president and Sue Ann Weinberg director of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, the exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue written by Dr. Hrdlicka, with a foreword by Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and with contributions by Dorothy Tapper Goldman and Robert McD. Parker.
The People Count: The Census in the Making of America
March 13 – June 7
What does it mean to be counted? As the 2020 Census kicks off, The People Count: The Census in the Making of America from the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection provides an in-depth look at the origins and story of the U. S. Census from 1790 through the 1800s, using 30 books and manuscripts that reveal the critical role the Census played in the development of the country. America became the first country to count its inhabitants for reasons of governing, as it dictates the number of House of Representatives seats that each state gets. In the 19th century as the country grew, so did the stakes of the census process, which further drove our nation west—and to war with itself.
The 2020 census will be the 24th decennial count undertaken without fail for 230 years. Censuses before the Constitution were the charge of the Board of Trade, which sent questionnaires to every colonial governor. “The Present State of the British Colonies in America” on display transcribes the results from 1773 to 1775, just as the American Revolution began, describing the people and land that England controlled at the time. On March 1, 1790, the First Census Act passed. The first census took 18 months to finish and counted almost 4 million people. Thomas Jefferson, then secretary of state, improvised a 56-page report, signing and circulating it privately, a copy of which is on view.
The People Count pays particular attention to the problem of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the census-related clause in the Constitution that regarded slaves equal to 60% of freepersons. Unable to vote, enslaved people unwittingly added to the political representation of slaveholders. Displayed in the exhibition is the 1860 census, which counted 3.95 million slaves, an eighth of all Americans, and uncovered that in 10 years the North had gained 41% more people while the South grew by only 27%. On view are printings of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Ninth Census—Volume I, The Statistics of the Population of the United States, the 1870 census, when there was no longer slaves to be counted for the first time in nine censuses.
In the wake of the Civil War as the population grew and expanded west, the 1880 census reports took eight years to finish. An 1890 copy of Scientific American illustrates how the counting was accomplished in less time with the Punched Card Tabulator system invented by Herman Hollerith, a former census employee from Buffalo, New York. Divided into four devices for perforating, reading, and sorting, workers completed 62.9 million returns of 30 questions in less than five years.
The People Count: The Census in the Making of America is curated by Mazy Boroujerdi, advisor to the David M. Rubenstein Americana Collection, and by Michael Ryan, New-York Historical vice president and Sue Ann Weinberg director of the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library.
Historians and scholars engage in a slate of related conversations, lectures, and intimate salons throughout the winter and spring. Black women and the 19th Amendment (March 12), older women in American history (March 19), and the life of Harriet Tubman (April 14) are among the topics explored during Women March. Programs that focus on the spirit of the law and the separation of powers (April 30), foreign influence in the 2020 election (May 2), and the presidents vs. the press (May 21) illuminate the presidency and the importance of the Oval Office. Scholars discuss power, politics, and madness (February 22) and the enduring constitutional vision of the Warren Court (April 25), among other programs focused on civics.
Family programs that take place on select weekends throughout the exhibitions’ run bring history to life for young visitors. One of the highlights is International Women’s Day on Sunday, March 8, when families can make crafts and meet historical interpreters portraying famous and little known leaders of the women’s rights movement.
Lead support for the installation of the Oval Office provided by Ira A. Lipman with generous support from Richard Gilder and Leonard Lauder & Judy Lauder. The Meet the Presidents Gallery made possible by a generous gift from Suzanne Peck and Brian Friedman. Construction of the Oval Office installation is supported, in part, by public funds from Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council as part of our Citizenship Project.
Lead exhibition sponsor for Women March is Jane Walker by Johnnie Walker. Lead philanthropic support provided by the New York Life Foundation. Programs are sponsored by a Humanities New York Action Grant with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Generous support for Colonists, Citizens, and Constitutions provided by Paula and Tom McInerney and Nancy and Morris W. Offit.
Free admission to these exhibitions for college students in 2020 is supported in part by History®.
Exhibitions at New-York Historical are made possible by Dr. Agnes Hsu-Tang and Oscar Tang, the Saunders Trust for American History, the Seymour Neuman Endowed Fund, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. WNET is the media sponsor.
About New-York Historical Society
The New-York Historical Society, one of America’s preeminent cultural institutions, is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history. New-York Historical is also home to the Patricia D. Klingenstein Library, one of the oldest, most distinguished libraries in the nation—and one of only 20 in the United States qualified to be a member of the Independent Research Libraries Association—which contains more than three million books, pamphlets, maps, newspapers, manuscripts, prints, photographs, and architectural drawings.
The New-York Historical Society is located at 170 Central Park West at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street), New York, NY 10024. Information: (212) 873-3400. Website: nyhistory.org. Follow the museum on social media at @nyhistory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr.
Rembrandt Peale. George Washington (1732–1799), 1853. Oil on canvas. New-York Historical Society, Bequest of Caroline Phelps Stokes
Women activists with signs for registration, 1956. Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Frances Albrier Collection. © Cox Studio
Choctaw Nation Constitution of 1838 / The Constitution and Laws of the Choctaw Nation Park Hill, Cherokee Nation: John Candy, 1840. Photo credit: Ardon Bar-Hama
Herman Hollerith’s Punched Card Tabulator. Scientific American, vol. 63., no. 9. New York, 1890. Courtesy of David M. Rubenstein