Susan B. Anthony Plaque

Susan B. Anthony, plaster, Diameter: 6 ¼ in. (medallion only). Fenimore Art Museum Research Library, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Horace Moses, Fenimore Art Museum Research Library Collection, N0031.1976.

Pick up any quarter and look at it. The back may be different depending on the year it was minted, but the front always depicts George Washington with a staunch look and stiff upper lip.  This portrayal of the staunch and stiff bust is represented not only on coins and for men but is also shown for women and artwork. A fine example of this can be seen on a white plaster plaque depicting Susan B. Anthony’s profile. [1] This white plaque is set within a square frame, a yellow-brown velvet mat with a glass covering and is preserved by the Fenimore Art Museum Research Library, in Cooperstown, New York. [2] Having Susan B. Anthony depicted in this fashion, like George Washington on a quarter, represents how prestigious her image was to the public and federal government history.

The first indication of this representation is the color that was used for the plaque. Even though plaster can easily be painted over, this piece was left in its clean white state. In a bust artwork like this one, usually, marble is used. However, the plaster may have been used instead because it is well suited to capturing detail like human features. [3] Art historian Charmaine A. Nelson, writes how the use of pink marble or added tints made human sculptures look like realistic Euro-American skin, which could spark sensual and even sexual reactions from male viewers. White, however, created a harsh contrast compared to pink marble because it “guarded against the threat of flesh.” [4] By having the plaster kept white, this took away the sexual features of Susan B. Anthony’s femininity and replaced it with a more serious tone. This harsh cold color helps the nation “manifest political and cultural cohesion,” an important element to neoclassicism and the suffrage movement. [5] By removing the sexual connotations of the pink color scheme, this plaque forces us to focus on the issues of suffrage and not the fact that Susan B. Anthony was a woman in a political realm. [6]

This plaque is similar to a Susan B. Anthony dollar coin that was minted in 1979. By having this coin minted, it represented how Susan B. Anthony’s contribution to women’s suffrage was highly valued by federal institutions like the Department of the Treasury. [7] Even though this coin was discontinued after two years, the plaque described before shows how not everyone in the public disliked the representation. In fact, with its protective glass casing and fancy velvet decor, this plaque represents how some people had great reverence for Susan B. Anthony being a role model for leadership. [8]

Because of Susan B. Anthony’s work in the suffrage movement, she was proven to be a leader to the public and the federal government. This representation can be seen in the plaque because of the color that was used and the bust illustration that was fashioned.  Susan B. Anthony’s representation here shows how girls can that run the world.

By: Brielle Cameron

[1] Susan B. Anthony was a famous suffragist during the late 19th century to the early 20th century.

[2] Susan B. Anthony, plaster, Diameter: 6 ¼ in. (medallion only). Fenimore Art Museum Research Library, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Horace Moses, Fenimore Art Museum Research Library Collection, N0031.1976.

[3] Sally M. Promey, “Chalkware, Plaster, Plaster of Paris,” Yale Center for the Study of Material & Visual Cultures of Religion, (accessed March 26, 2017).

[4] Charmaine A. Nelson, “White Marble, Black Bodies and the Fear of the Invisible Negro: Signifying Blackness in Mid-Nineteenth-Century Neoclassical Sculpture,” RACAR: Revue D’art Canadienne/Canadian Art Review 27, no. 1/2 (2000), stable/42631206 (accessed March 26, 2017), 89.

[5] Ibid., 88-89.

[6] Rosa Gallagher, “Profiles in Plaster: Susan B. Anthony in U.S. Women’s Suffrage,” Cooperstown Graduate Program, (Cooperstown, New York: Cooperstown Graduate Program, 2017), 3.

[7] Ibid., 4.

[8] Michael J. Lewis, “Of Kitsch and Coins,” Commentary 108, no. 3 (October 1999), 32. (accessed March 26, 2017).