Archives for posts with tag: Protest

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.

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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