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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.

 

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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

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.

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.

At a glance, this suffragette sash held by the Fenimore Art Museum, is but one of many surviving examples of a national movement for women’s suffrage in the United States. However, while the sash features the colors purple and white, universally used in the American suffrage movement, the third color, which makes up the second stripe along the edge of the sash, appears to be a faded green. The inclusion of green in lieu of the typical gold, departs from the tricolor iconic of the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. It is this differentiation in the color of the sash that signifies a movement for women’s suffrage in the United States divided not only by usage of the colors gold and green but a militancy of tactics.

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Sash, 1910-1920. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Rebecca Clark, N0147.1945 (02).

Gold became associated with the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States beginning with Elizbeth Cady Stanton and Susan S. Anthony’s use of the colors in a campaign to pass a suffrage referendum in Kansas in 1867. Soon after, suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association led by Susan B. Anthony rallied gold pins, ribbons, sashes, and yellow roses to their cause declaring “the more who wear it, the greater our strength will be.”[1]

Juxtaposing the use of gold by more moderate organizations, were the colors of purple, white, and green synonymous with the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom and the militant Woman’s Social and Political Union.[2] This British tricolor was adopted by certain suffrage organizations within the United States including Harriot Stanton Blatch’s Women’s Political Union and other American suffrage organizations to signify the militancy they shared with their British counterparts.[3] The tendency of these militant organizations for violent protest led more moderate groups to disassociate themselves from such tactics through the adoption of an American tricolor similar in the inclusion of purple and white with green replaced by gold.[4]

Purple, white, and gold began to feature prominently in suffrage campaigns across the United States and soon became associated with the American women’s suffrage movement as a whole.[5] So ostracized was the color green within the American women’s suffrage movement, when Alice Paul’s more radical National Women’s Party declared its official colors in 1913, they included purple, white and the American gold in lieu the color green.[6] The “Votes for Women” sash with its inclusion of the color green and exclusion of the more iconic gold represents an allegiance of the wearer to a level of militancy generally dissociated with the movement for women’s suffrage in the United States through the exclusion of green from the American tricolor.

By Conner A. Wolfe

[1] “An Introduction to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement,” National Women’s History Museum, accessed March 26, 2017, https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/exhibit_text.html.

[2] Ibid.

[3] National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. “Woman Suffrage Votes Sash.” Americanhistory.si.edu. Accessed February 6, 2017, http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_509474.

[4] Florey, Kenneth. Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2013), 80.

[5] Lacroix, Allison. “The National Woman’s Party and the Meaning behind Their Purple, White, and Gold Textiles” NationalWomensParty.org. Accessed February 6, 2017. http://nationalwomansparty.org/the-national-womans-party-and-the-meaning-behind-their-purple-white-and-gold-textiles/

[6] Ibid.

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“Our Bugler Girl carries her bugle and her banner; her sword is sheathed by her side; it is there, but not drawn, and if it were drawn, it would not be the sword of the flesh, but of the spirit. For ours is not a warfare against men, but against evil; a war in which women and men fight together.”[1]

Bugler Girl Button

Campaign Pin, 1910-1920. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Rebecca Schenck Clark, N0319.1950 (06). Photograph by Melissa Nunez.

 

This pin, dated between 1914-1917, is a small object packed with symbolic meaning for the suffrage movement in the twentieth century.  It tells the story of the militant side of the movement through imagery and color, and would have marked the wearer as a radical suffragette. Mass produced by the Ehrmann Manufacturing Company in Boston, Massachusetts[2], the pin features the image of the Bugler Girl, an armor clad woman, sword hanging from her belt, and a bugle pressed to her mouth to trumpet the call for women’s equality and voting rights.

The Bugler Girl was adopted as a symbol of suffrage by those who were looking for an assertive, active model for women in the movement. The Bugler Girl was the antithesis of the domestic woman. Far from the passive role women were confined to, the Bugler Girl was ready for battle, disrupting the status quo with her trumpet blasts calling for change. Though her image is war-like, the above quote demonstrates that violent protest and a war against men is not what the movement called for. Rather, the sword represented the commitment to the struggle, and the recognition that women would not be passive actors in the movement.

In the U.S., the Women’s Political Union was known for its militant ideals and strategies. Founded in 1907 as the Equality League of Self-Supporting Women, the organization had strong ties with working class women, and with its predecessor and English counterpart, the Women’s Social and Political Union.[3] Known for its aggressive tactics and protests, the English organization became a model for the WPU in America. Eventually, not only the organization’s name, but its colors were adopted. Unlike other U.S. suffrage organizations that used a white, purple and yellow color scheme, the WPU used white, purple and green to differentiate itself and align itself with the ideals and tactics of its English predecessor. Yet, the colors still showed solidarity with the suffrage movement overall.

The Bugler Girl pin boasts these colors in conjunction with the image of a woman at war, calling out for “Votes for Women.” As a mass produced, wearable object, this pin, with its color scheme and imagery, would have marked its wearer as a radical, active, and militant suffragette, with ideals that matched those of the WPU and a desire to carry on the rallying cry of the Bugler Girl.

By Melissa Nunez

 

[1] Crawford, Elizabeth. “The Bugler Girl”. womanandhersphere.com. https://womanandhersphere.com/tag/the-bugler-girl/. 2011.

[2]   Florey, Kenneth. Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia. 1st ed. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc. 2013. 128

[3] Trueman, C.N. “Women’s Social and Political Union”. History Learning Site. http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/the-role-of-british-women-in-the-twentieth-century/womens-social-and-political-union/. 2016

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.

By Julia Fell

Symbols are a way of identifying oneself. We use them every day to tell others what we have experienced, what our political preferences are, what our moral codes stem from, and who else we choose to associate with. During the American Civil War, which was by all accounts a war of American identity, symbols were adopted and used heavily by the Union Army.

Cane, approx. 1865-1920, wood, lead, brass, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Salvatore Cilella, Jr., N0009.2011. Photographs by Julia Fell

Cane, approx. 1865-1920, wood, lead, brass, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Salvatore Cilella, Jr., N0009.2011. Photographs by Julia Fell

The badge system of identification was developed by Major General Joseph Hooker, commander of the Army of the Potomac, in March of 1863 [1]. As a result, many of the badges are known to represent the Army of the Potomac, including circles, clovers or trefoils, diamonds, crosses (Maltese and otherwise), crescent moons, and stars [2]. All of these symbols appear on a very unique cane found in the collections of the New York State Historical Association. Along with the geometric symbols, the cane hosts a variety of flags, arrows, anchors, and other military symbols, such as the recognizable crossed sabres.

Corps badges as created by Hooker. All of the corps symbols appear on the cane, although some are crudely formed. Image from the National Park Service website’s Civil War Series: The Battle of Chancellorsville.

Along with the Army of the Potomac symbols, the cane gives a definitive hint to its origin: “121 H.” On a hunch, I Googled the 121st New York Volunteer Infantry, and found out that it was made up of men from Otsego County, which makes perfect sense for an object which is now stored in that county. The “H” Company was comprised of volunteers from Little Falls, Richfield, Salisbury, and Otesego [3].

Cane, approx. 1865-1920, wood, lead, brass, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Salvatore Cilella, Jr., N0009.2011. Photographs by Julia Fell

Cane, approx. 1865-1920, wood, lead, brass, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Salvatore Cilella, Jr., N0009.2011. Photographs by Julia Fell

As part of the Army of the Potomac, the 121st fought in the 2nd brigade in approximately 36 battles, including those at Gettysburg and Appomatox Court House [3].

It is unclear who the owner and/or maker of this cane was, but it is a fair assumption that he was a member of the 121st. The symbols that he hand carved represent the men that he fought side by side with during his service (1862-1865, as indicated on the cane, as well as the duration of the 121st’s activity).

Union officers who were honorably discharged or left service at the end of the war were legally entitled to display their corps badges [4]. There is no doubt that out on the street, this cane would have gathered plenty of attention and let any passerby know exactly who its owner was and what he had fought for. Being a part of the New York 121st Volunteer Infantry was a life-changing experience for the owner of this cane, as well as a sure reminder of the war that changed his country.

(Another interesting feature of the cane is a hollowed out compartment that holds two lead musket balls. A gruesome guess at where they came from may also indicate the reason that the owner needed a cane… his leg!)

[1] Boyd, Steven R. “From “The Boys in Blue” to the Veteran.” In Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War the Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers, 97. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2010.

[2] Landham, Dr. Howard G. “Designs of Civil War Corps Badges.” Civil War Corps Badges. Accessed October 19, 2015.

[3] “121st NY Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.” 121st NY Infantry Regiment during the Civil War – NY Military Museum and Veterans Research Center. April 23, 2012. Accessed October 19, 2015.

[4] Field, Ron, and Robin Smith. “Insignia and Medals.” In Uniforms of the American Civil War [: An Illustrated Guide for Historians, Collectors, and Reenactors], 135. 1. Lyons Press ed. Guildford, Connecticut: Lyons Press, 2001.