Archives for category: Women

When thinking about the fashion of the women’s suffrage movement, people’s minds often naturally conjure images of women trading their long skirts for bloomers and vehemently casting aside their restrictive corsets. By this logic, one might easily dismiss the owner of this 1896 wedding dress as ambivalent, or even opposed, to suffrage and the sweeping changes to fashion associated with it. After all, the dress shows no evidence of the women’s clothing reform that began in the 19th century. Conforming to mainstream high fashion of the time, it has a high, stiff collar and would have been worn with a corset. Furthermore, the bride who wore it, Sarah Peters Hickok, was a homemaker and socialite from Oneonta, NY.[1] Yet, despite these facts, this dress is not sufficient grounds upon which to determine Sarah’s political position because suffragist dress and thoughts on the subject varied widely during the 19th and 20th centuries.

 

IMG_2701

Bodice and skirt, ca. 1896, patterned silk, satin, lace, H: 18 (bodice), 45 (skirt) x W: 22 in. (bodice waist). Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Hannah Hampe, N0041.1955a-b. Photograph by the author.

It is true that women’s rights activists had already donned bloomers by the mid-19th century. However, they soon largely returned to more traditional dress after realizing that the radical and shocking bloomers were actually more of a distraction than an asset in their fight for equality.[2] While bloomers reemerged by the time this wedding dress was made in the late 19th century, they were primarily used as bicycling outfits.[3]

Appropriate dress was a strategic and hotly debated topic among suffragists, dividing even those at the forefront of the movement. Some activists, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, equated the corsets and long skirts of contemporary female fashion with oppression, designed to keep women subservient. However, others followed the lead of Susan B. Anthony, who was stylish, aware of current fashion trends, and determined to maintain her femininity in dress.[4] Attempting to simultaneously challenge traditional ideas about both fashion and the right to vote was dangerous, with the former potentially jeopardizing the latter.

As in the U.S., suffragists in the U.K. also “married radical ideas with willfully conventional dress.”[5] Having observed the American bloomer debacle, British suffragist leader Lydia Becker took a conservative position on dress, advising women to “stick to your stays, ladies, and triumph over the other sex.”[6] Even Emmeline Pankhurst and the militant suffragists of the Women’s Political and Social Union, who were known for arson, window smashing, and picture slashing, exhibited elegance and refinement in their dress. Suffragists were advocating radical ideas and they had to choose their battles wisely: fashion or the ballot. Dressing in a conservative manner gave suffragists credibility and helped make the notion of women voting more palatable. It also prevented them from being seen as demanding too much change too quickly.[7]

So, was the owner of this wedding dress a suffragist? We may never know. However, what is certain is that the conservative and restrictive style of her dress does not preclude the possibility that she was. Indeed, suffragist Charlotte Hawkins Brown dressed very similar to Sarah Peters Hickok for her 1911 wedding. In short, one cannot judge a suffragist by her dress.

[1] “Delaware County News,” The Oneonta Star (Oneonta, NY), March 19, 1926, 7.

[2] Gayle V. Fischer, Pantaloons and Power: A Nineteenth-Century Dress Reform in the United States (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2001), 104-107

[3] Ibid., 171-172.

[4] Jenny Cobb, “The Fashion of Suffrage: Women “Vote” with Their Clothes,” Bullock Museum, https://www.thestoryoftexas.com/discover/artifacts/suffrage-dress-shoes.

[5] Cally Blackman, “How the Suffragettes Used Fashion to Further the Cause,” The Guardian, Oct. 8, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/oct/08/suffragette-style-movement-embraced-fashion-branding.

[6] Christine Bayles Kortsch, Dress Culture in Late Victorian Women’s Fiction: Literacy, Textiles, and Activism (New York: Routledge, 2016), 91-92.

[7] Ibid.

By Sarah Phillips

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safety bike

Bicycle, Safety, 1898-1905, iron, metal, wood, rubber, L: 72 x H: 44.5 x D: 30 in. The Farmers’ Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of the Rochester Historical Society, F0939.1946.

Anyone who has seen an old-fashioned bicycle, with one giant wheel and one tiny one, and wondered how anyone could balance on it, can see why bike riders in the late nineteenth century preferred the newly-developed safety bicycle, with its equally-sized wheels. This change in bicycle design had far-reaching consequences for gender roles and political activism. Before the safety bicycle, cycling was a masculine activity; the design of older bicycles made it difficult for women to ride due to their long skirts. Women were also expected to spend their time in the home, not in public. Once the safety bicycle was invented, women in skirts could balance on a bicycle easily.[1] Women began to ride in droves in the 1890s, many reveling in their new-found freedom. Women were able to travel farther on their own and broaden their horizons.

 

However, this did not mean that bicycling was not still a gendered activity, as this particular model from The Farmer’s Museum’s collection reveals. Although men’s and women’s safety bicycles had similar designs, there was a clear difference between them. This safety bike was made by Radio Sporting Goods in Rochester, NY, between 1898 and 1905, at the height of the bicycle’s popularity. It was most likely owned by a man because it has a diamond frame. Most bikes for women lacked a bar at the top, as this one does. A bicycle with a “step-through” frame allowed women in skirts to ride more easily.[2]

 

ladies_safety_bicycles1889

A Ladies Safety Bicycle (Photo Courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Although it would have been difficult to ride this safety bicycle in a skirt, it was possible for a women wearing bloomers to ride it. Some bicycle manufacturers marketed bicycles with diamond frames to women who wore bloomers.[3] Because of the bicycle craze in the 1890s, bloomers became popular among women.[4] Some men worried that women who wanted to wear pants would want other prerogatives that had traditionally been reserved for men.[5] Even those women who rode bicycles in skirts were seen as “new women,” who rejected traditional gender roles. Riding a bicycle gave women more control over their own lives. Cycling was also a political statement, particularly if a woman was riding a bicycle with a diamond frame.

 

Those who supported and opposed women’s suffrage linked safety bicycles to women’s participation in the public sphere.[6] Because they enabled women to travel more freely and on their own, suffragettes wrote that bicycles led to female empowerment. The popular book, Bicycling for Ladies, by M.E. Ward, stated that “riding the wheel, our own powers are revealed to us… you are continually being called upon to judge and to determine points that before have not needed your consideration, and consequently you become more alert, active, quick-sighted and keenly alive as well to the rights of others as to what is due yourself.”[7] The increased independence that bicycles afforded to women made it possible for them to leave the private sphere and demand increased rights and opportunities in the public sphere.

By Emma Glaser

[1] Ellen Gruber Garvey, “Reframing the Bicycle: Advertising-Supported Magazines and Scorching Women,” American Quarterly 47, no. 1 (March 1996): 67-69.

[2] Steven E. Alford and Suzanne Ferriss, An Alternative History of Bicycles and Motorcycles: Two-Wheeled Transportation and Material Culture (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016), 51-52.

[3] Garvey, “Reframing the Bicycle,” 69.

[4] Antonia Petrash, More than Petticoats: Remarkable New York Women (Guilford: TwoDot, 2001), 60.

[5] Patricia Marks, Bicycles, Bangs, and Bloomers: The New Woman in the Popular Press (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990), 191, 193.

[6] Erin Russell, “That’s No Ordinary Bicycle!: A Safety Bicycle and Women’s Suffrage” (Cooperstown Graduate Program, SUNY Oneonta, 2017), 6.

[7] M.E. Ward, Bicycling for Ladies (New York: Brentano’s, 1896), 12-13.

“All men are created equal.” Despite the pronoun chosen, the meaning of the Declaration of Independence’s most recognizable sentence is clear: this is a nation founded on the principles of equality. Despite this, only within the last century have women achieved suffrage. Women achieved suffrage though the efforts of individuals who dissolved prejudices and dismantled stereotypes by entering male-dominated fields. One such prejudice held in the nineteenth century was that women were unfit to hold careers similar to those of men.

Material Culture Methods Bleva

Legal Certificate, Lockwood (Belva Ann), 1879, Ink on Paper, H: 14 x W: 17 in., Fenimore Art Museum Research Library, Cooperstown, New York, The Ormes-Winner Collection, FM-60.71, Coll. 213.

A document in the Fenimore Art Museum Library’s collection, reveals the story of a woman who entered such a career in 1879. Her life blossomed into a career that pushed the issue of woman’s equality and suffrage into the national spotlight. By writing the name of a woman, Belva A. Lockwood, on a space traditionally held for men, the document is a physical representation of the first step an individual took towards achieving woman’s suffrage in the United States.

On the surface, the document is a straightforward legal certificate from the nineteenth century. Along the top is printed “Supreme Court of the United States.” Below the heading are images of the Judicial branch: blinded Justice carrying her scales, an angelic figure pointing to the Constitution, and a bald eagle standing atop a collection of legal texts. These documents with their seal from the Supreme Court were released to numerous male attorneys annually. What makes these documents unique are the handwritten names of the recipients, in this case, Belva A. Lockwood. With this document, she was given the title, “Attorney and Counselor of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

Becoming a female Attorney of the Supreme Court was a groundbreaking achievement in the nineteenth century. Consequently, Lockwood encountered numerous setbacks. The Claims Court Bar denied her admission in 1874 due to her gender. In explaining his decision, Chief Justice Charles Drake, who presided over the admissions process, wrote: “Mistress Lockwood, you are a woman…a married woman!” [1] This charge was a continuation of coverture, that upon marriage, the legal existence of a woman was incorporated into that of her husband’s.

Despite the resistance she encountered, Lockwood was the first woman to present oral arguments before the Supreme Court,Kaiser v. Stickney in 1880. [2] Lockwood was also the first woman to run a full presidential campaign. She ran her campaign believing that it would help woman gain both the right to vote and be accepted into another male-dominated arena: politics. Her campaign garnered national attention to the issue of suffrage. [3]

Lockwood reflected, “of great men…law has been the stepping stone to greatness.” She believed that after penetrating the legal profession, women could attain further achievements. [4] Once her name was written on a space traditionally reserved for men, she launched herself, and womankind, into other male-dominated fields. Ultimately, her career led her to politics where she put suffrage into the spotlight.

By James Connally

[1] Certificate to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court issued to Belva Lockwood, 3 March 1879, Belva Ann Lockwood Papers. & Jill Norgren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would Be President (New York: New York University Press, 2007), 68.

[2] Jill Norgren, “Belva Lockwood: Blazing the Trail for Women in Law, Part 2,” Prologue Magazine, Spring 2005, https://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/2005/spring/belva-lockwood-2.html.

[3] Norgren, “Belva Lockwood: Blazing the Trail for Women in Law.”

[4] Belva A. Lockwood, “My Efforts to Become a Lawyer,” in Belva A. Lockwood, ed. Julia Hull Winner (Niagara Falls: Fose Printing, Inc, 1969), 116.

New York State’s centennial for women’s suffrage marks a worthy occasion to examine the period’s material culture and its connections to today. In the 1910s, the fight for women’s suffrage took a different form. Previously, most suffragists wrote letters and pamphlets and did speaking tours to publicize their arguments for women’s suffrage. Public protests did not become widespread until the 1910s. This yellow armband embodies the shift. Suffragists organized public protests and wore accessories to reflect their support for the movement, actions still practiced by protestors today.

votes for women

Women’s Suffrage armband, Felt, 1910-1920, Fenimore Art Museum, N0147.1945(01). Photograph by Michael Barone.

This armband, composed of yellow felt and black text, was a common design for the period. Its message is blunt: “VOTES FOR WOMEN.” Such armbands indicated to parade onlookers the event’s purpose, but also signaled to other suffragists that the wearer sympathized with the cause. This specific armband was hand cut from a larger piece of felt. It was probably part of a batch crafted for a large group of suffragists. Web searches unearth other similarly styled armbands, further suggesting its large-scale production.

votes for women 2

Women’s Suffrage armband, Felt, 1910-1920, Fenimore Art Museum, N0147.1945(01). Photograph by Michael Barone.

The American suffrage movement oft represented itself with two colors: purple and yellow. British suffragists popularized purple, which American suffragists later adopted. Yellow, however, was a purely American suffrage color, anchoring this armband in the American movement. Yellow became associated with women’s suffrage in 1867, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony attempted to pass women’s suffrage in Kansas. Suffragists started to use Kansas’s state symbol, a sunflower, to represent the movement, which led to yellow’s link to women’s suffrage. [1]

Today, protestors still wear clothing and accessories that coordinate with other protestors to emphasize solidarity. For example, after the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, demonstrators wore hoodies, because Martin and his clothing choice had been negatively portrayed in the media. [2] In January, many women wore pink “pussyhats” to marches protesting President Trump’s inauguration. [3] Wearing these items created a sense of unity between protestors throughout the country.

However, these examples differ from the armband in a key way. The hoodies and “pussyhats” for the most part did not explicitly state the protest’s purpose. An onlooker would require background knowledge. If they were not familiar with Donald Trump’s leaked comments, or Trayvon Martin’s murder and its portrayal in the media, they would not understand the clothing’s meaning. A pink knit cap with ears or a hoodie would not seem out of place when worn by one person, but when thousands of people wear them, the message carries weight.

This armband, unlike the hoodies or “pussyhats,” explicitly states its message. An onlooker would not need to know that yellow represented the women’s suffrage movement in the United States to understand its wearer’s intent for wearing it, because it includes text. Today, the rise of social media and television allows the meaning behind protestor clothing choices to quickly disseminate. Sartorial expressions continue to be a powerful way for demonstrators to broadcast their unity and purpose.

By Erin Russell

[1] “Symbolic Suffrage Colors,” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed March 27, 2017. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/tour_02-02l.html.

[2] Linton Weeks, “Tragedy Gives The Hoodie A Whole New Meaning,” National Public Radio, March 24, 2012. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/24/149245834/tragedy-gives-the-hoodie-a-whole-new-meaning.

[3] “’Pussyhat’ protestors headed to D.C. for post-inauguration rally,” Washington Post, January 17, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/local/pussyhat-protesters-headed-to-dc-for-post-inauguration-rally/2017/01/17/9fd3247c-dcf4-11e6-8902-610fe486791c_video.html.

The idiom, “slaving over a hot stove,” conjures an image of a woman finishing dinner before the man returns from work. In the 19th century, during the advent of catalog shopping and door-to-door salesmen, retail stores and appliance companies certainly advertised household items toward women to create the ideal housewife. However, as much as stoves represented housewifery and ideas of servitude, it expanded women’s roles in society, consequently providing an opportunity for the growth of the New Woman, who became involved in the suffrage movement.

Eclipse Stove

Eclipse Cast-Iron Stove, 19th century, Eclipse Stove Company, iron, H: 21″ x W: 20″ x D: 9″. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Donation of Amelia D. Bielaski, Amelia D. Bielaski Estate Collection, N0162.1979. Photograph by Brielle Cameron. 

This miniature Eclipse cast-iron stove, perhaps a salesman’s model, offers a glimpse into how and why a simple stove design left such a lasting impact on women. This miniature includes a frying pan, coal bucket, teakettle, and kettle bucket, all in the hopes of selling a real one to a housewife. The sleek design and ornamentation contributed to its desirability as it conveyed wealth without the lofty price tag. [1]

With this new stove, a wife cooked more food in a shorter amount of time, much to the delight of her working husband. Appearing in catalogs, such as Sears Roebuck, stores marketed the stove toward housewives, giving them ownership over the domestic sphere with the time to complete other household tasks. [2] Efficient and economical, the cast-iron stove quickly replaced hearths in households. Unintended by the producers of the stove, those two characteristics made it possible for women to move away from domesticity and into expanded roles.

In the late 19th century, women began to break free of societal expectations and conventional roles. Often labeled as the New Woman by historians, these women received a higher education and realized they did not necessarily want the life of a wife and mother. Thus, the New Woman moved into settlement homes with others who shared the same values. [3] They entered the workforce either in factories, business or teaching professions. Their expanded role lead to an increased awareness of the pitfalls of American society against women. Correspondingly, the New Woman was often synonymous with the growing suffrage movement.

Though no longer confined to the home, cooking was still part of daily life. Herein lies the importance of the new cast-iron stoves and its influence on women maintaining their newfound freedom. As stated before, the cast-iron stove’s efficiency meant that people were not tied to the kitchen all day. Instead, the New Woman who chose to work, or wanted an expanded role in society, could return home to make their dinner. Cast-iron stoves sold at cheaper rates, making it easier to buy for people on a budget, and quickly became popular in the average home. [4]

With the advantage of increased flexibility, the New Woman took the opportunities to enter public society and fight for their rights, whether that be in the suffrage movement or challenging defined gender roles. They did not want to be confined or defined by domesticity. Who knew simple design changes to a regular household kitchen appliance could give the New Woman the freedom to sustain their ideas.

By: Alexa Wichowsky

Citations:

[1] Pauline K. Eversmann, The Winterthur Guide to Recognizing Styles. (Delaware: The Henry Francis Du Pont Winterthur Museum, Inc., 2001), 90.

[2] Eclipse Stove Co. Eclipse Stoves, Catalog Number 26: Illustrating Cast and Steel Ranges, Cast Cook, Heating Stoves for Coal and Wood and School Heating Apparatus., 5.

[3] Susan M. Cruea, Changing Ideals of Womanhood During the Nineteenth-Century Women Movement. (Ohio: General Studies Writing Faculty Publications, 2005), 199.

[4] Schwartz Cowan, More Work for the Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave. (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1983.), 61.

Like people today, people in the early 20th century used political cartoons and humor to make a point. However, unlike current political activists, those in the 20th century did not have access to the Internet to spread their message. Instead, the postcard was a simple, affordable, and easily accessible way for anti-suffragists to express their concerns about what suffrage could mean for the United States.[1] “I Love My Husband, But – Oh You Vote,” was one such postcard. The image and the caption tell the viewer that it is voting rights that turns women from loving wives and mothers into promiscuous and absent figures.

Postcard

“I Love My Husband, But – Oh You Vote” Postcard, 1911, paper, L: 5 1/2 x W: 3 1/2 in. Cooperstown Graduate Program, Cooperstown, New York, Purchase, Teaching Collection, T15.45d. Photograph by Sarah Phillips.

The woman pictured is holding a ballot and wearing a red dress with the hem lifted. The contemporary viewer would have seen the vibrant red color and the raised dress showing her feet and ankles as an indicator of sexual promiscuity. The provocative red dress and the exposed petticoats belong to woman who is acting immorally. The addition of the ballot shows the viewer that voting is the reason the woman is changing from an upstanding and loving wife into something negative.

Additionally, a woman in a red dress appears many times throughout this series of postcards. Other postcards show: men watching children while a woman in a red dress leaves, a woman in a red dress kissing a man, and a man wondering where is wife is while a woman in a red dress is out giving speeches.[2] The repetition reinforces the viewer’s understanding of the fear displayed by this postcard. This fear of a sexually promiscuous woman replacing the “angel in the house,” incited anti-suffragists to use these postcards to explain their concerns over voting equality in an attempt to stop suffrage.[3]

The caption further reinforces the message sent by the image. “I Love My Husband, But – Oh You Vote,” tells the viewer that a woman cannot both love her husband and vote. The “But” in the caption implies that the actions depicted in the two phrases cannot coexist. It is the very act of voting that removes the woman from the house and her duties as a wife and mother. If she truly loved her husband, she would trust him to vote in her stead while she stayed home and cared for the house and children.

The concern that women’s voting rights would lead to absent mothers and promiscuous wives is seen in the caption and image of the anti-suffrage postcard “I Love My Husband, But – Oh You Vote.” The postcard, easily spread and affordable, provided a simple way for anti-suffragists to spread their fear of suffrage and try to influence the fight for voting rights.

 

By Amanda Belli

 

[1] Catherine H. Palczewski, “The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam: Visual Argument, Icons, and Ideographs in 1909 Anti-Woman Suffrage Postcards,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 91, no. 4 (2005): 384.

[2] Catherine H. Palczewski, Palczewski Suffrage Postcard Archive, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, IA, https://sites.uni.edu/palczews/NEW%20postcard%20webpage/Dunston%20Weiler.html.

[3] Palczewski, “The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam,” 374.

There is a lot of discussion surrounding the role of women in politics in the United States today, as we saw this past year, when the country came close to electing our first female president. However, this is not a recent development – Americans have debated the relationship between women and politics throughout the country’s history, and this relationship has changed over the centuries. We can see this change reflected in objects that belonged to women, such as this sampler:

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Sampler, 1795-1850, Hannah Reynolds and Ann Alila Carr, silk on linen, H: 11 x W: 9.5 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Marjory Hall Yeakley, N0490.1961. Photograph by Richard Walker.

 

A sampler is a piece of needlework, which girls or women would stitch in order to demonstrate their sewing skills. A woman named Hannah Reynolds first stitched this sampler in 1795. At this time, the United States was still a very new country, and patriotism was important for both men and women. In the decades following American independence, the idea of “Republican motherhood” emerged. This idea, which stated that women had a responsibility to educate their children and to raise their sons to be good, patriotic citizens, gave women a gender-specific but important political role. Hannah Reynolds was likely teaching her children when she sewed this sampler and stitched the words “made…in the nineteenth year of the independence of United America” on it. This suggests that she was committed to the idea of Republican motherhood, teaching her children about patriotism and participating in politics in a “feminine” way.

 

Fifty-five years later, in 1850, Reynolds’ granddaughter, Ann Alila Carr, added a couple of lines to the sampler.[1] By this time, ideas about women’s roles in politics had changed. During the early nineteenth century, some Americans began to see women’s increased political roles as a challenge to traditional gender roles, and this caused a backlash. This led to the emergence of separate spheres – men took care of public business, while women remained in the home. By 1850, this idea was firmly entrenched.[2] At the same time, some women began to challenge this idea, and in 1848, the women’s suffrage movement began with the Seneca Falls Convention. However, the suffragists’ ideas were very radical at this time; most people still believed that women should not be involved in politics.[3] By sewing on her grandmother’s sampler, Ann Alila Carr was demonstrating a very traditional female skill, showing her to be firmly within the apolitical women’s sphere of the time.[4]

 

Over the years, women’s roles in politics have continued to change. Women throughout the country gained the right to vote in 1920, and since then, the number of women in politics has grown. There are still far fewer women than men in politics in the United States today, but the relationship between women and politics continues to evolve as women fight to fill higher political positions than ever.

 

Blog post by Emily Reinl

 

Sources:

[1] Donor File, Marjory Hall Yeakley, Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, NY.

[2] Rosemarie Zagarri, Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007), 77-79.

[3] Sally McMillen, Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008), 4.

[4] Rosemarie Zagarri, “Politics and Civil Society: A Discussion of Mary Kelley’s Learning to Stand and Speak,” Journal of the Early Republic, 28 (2008): 62; Glee Krueger, New England Samplers to 1840 (Sturbridge: Old Sturbridge Village, 1978), 2.