Archives for posts with tag: politics

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.

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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.

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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.

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“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.

How do you show your political views? Do you have bumpers stickers on your car? Or maybe you put up lawn signs to support political candidates or ballot propositions? The act of expressing your views publically through objects is nothing new. The mediums through which we express ourselves, however, have changed over time.

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Coverlet, 1848, cotton and wool, 87″ x 76.5″. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, N0004.2001.

This coverlet from Beekman in Dutchess County, New York, has a surprise message woven into its design. Amongst the stylish Rococo Revival roses and floral arrangements, popular motifs at the time, is a political statement. If you direct your eyes to the coverlet’s border you will see the inscription “Mary Jones,” followed by “Victory in Beekman AD 1848.” The name most likely refers to the woman who commissioned the piece from a professional weaver and the date, 1848, when it was woven. The second portion of the inscription is a bit unusual though, and here’s where things get interesting!

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Coverlet, 1848, cotton and wool, 87″ x 76.5″. New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, N0004.2001.

According to oral tradition that surrounds the coverlet, the phrase “Victory in Beekman” refers to events of the Anti-Rent War in New York State. After the American Revolution, inhabitants of the newly formed nation were looking to cash in on  promises of freedom and equality established by the Founding Fathers. They hoped to make the dream of owning their own land and profiting from their own labor a reality. They ran into resistance, however, when they attempted to free themselves of leases established long ago by wealthy landlords. This semi-Manorial system of land tenure went on until farmers began protesting in the late 1830s and 1840s. These Antirenters banded together and refused to pay rent. Some extreme members of the group even dressed in costume as Native Americans and terrorized landlords. In 1845 the state called in its militia, but public opinion sided with the protesters and in 1846 a new state constitution banned such feudal tenures.

Much of this activity took place in Delaware County, which neighbors Dutchess County where the coverlet was made. Protests took place throughout the Hudson Valley, however, and the group even formed its own Antirenters political party. It is not far fetched then to assume that Mary Jones of Beekman may have been somehow involved with the party and hoped to commemorate its victories in her own home by commissioning the coverlet.

All across the state, women like Mary Jones were ordering fancy and figured coverlets from an expanding network of weavers. The arrival of the jacquard mechanism from Europe two decades earlier allowed for weavers to incorporate more ornate and precise designs into woven coverlets. Many New York women commissioned pieces with patriotic imagery, including the widespread use of the American eagle. The phrase “Victory in Beekman” takes this generalized national pride a step further in referencing specific events and makes the coverlet unique. Jones clearly felt strong pride in not only her country, but in the political views she held. She used this coverlet as an outlet to show others just what side of the Anti-Rent fight she was on.

So the next time you state your opinion via a bumper sticker think of Mary Jones and her coverlet and remember that you are taking part in a long tradition of political expression!

-B. Schline, CGP’14

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For further reading on coverlets or the Anti-Rent War check out:

Anderson, Clarita. American Coverlets and their Weavers : Coverlets from the Collection of Foster and Muriel McCarl. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 2002.

Heisey, John. A Checklist of American Coverlet Weavers. Williamsburg, VA: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1978.

Kubik, Dorothy. A Free Soil — A Free People: The Anti-Rent War in Delaware County, New York. Fleischmanns, N.Y. : Purple Mountain Press, 1997.

McCurdy, Charles W. The Anti-Rent Era in New York Law and Politics, 1839–1865.  Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001.

Images from the Fenimore Art Museum/New York State Historical Association and the Farmer’s Museum collection include fine art, folk art, photography, Native American Indian art,  and farm related objects. Images of objects in the collections are available for scholarly or commercial publication, personal reproduction or research. Photographic images must be requested through the Rights and Reproductions Department.