Archives for posts with tag: United Kingdom

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

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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.