Archives for posts with tag: United States

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.



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,

[5] Cally Blackman, “How the Suffragettes Used Fashion to Further the Cause,” The Guardian, Oct. 8, 2015,

[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.

[2] Linton Weeks, “Tragedy Gives The Hoodie A Whole New Meaning,” National Public Radio, March 24, 2012.

[3] “’Pussyhat’ protestors headed to D.C. for post-inauguration rally,” Washington Post, January 17, 2017.

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.


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,

[2] Ibid.

[3] National Museum of American History, Kenneth E. Behring Center. “Woman Suffrage Votes Sash.” Accessed February 6, 2017,

[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” Accessed February 6, 2017.

[6] Ibid.

Alexander Sniffen

In my family, there’s a box of silver utensils that have been sitting in the dining room, untouched and unmoved for as long as I can remember. For many families there are items like this – ceramics that simply serves as a symbol, and are purely decorative in nature. Blue transferware plates are a common collector’s item, and many are themed, but all have consistently served a decorative purpose in the household. Specifically, many are focused on commemoration of important regional or national events in American history.

Plate 2

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

This plate in particular was produced in Staffordshire, England – a hub of ceramic production in the early and mid-19th century.[1] Many of these plates, however, were also produced and imported for an American audience – reflecting American icons, events, and important buildings in the blue transferware.[2]

For example, this blue plate – an import from Staffordshire and possibly by Enoch Wood & Sons (the “Father of the Potteries”) – depicts the steamship Chief Justice Marshall, of the Troy Line.[3] I say possibly, because the makers mark is either rubbed off or missing.[4] This ship, the “Race Horse of the North River” as it was called, was a record-breaking passenger ship, completing the trip from New York, New York, to Albany, New York in 14 ½ hours.[5] This was in stark contrast to the Clermont, which took nearly 30 hours to complete the journey.[6] For those seeing this massive progress, it was certainly a revolution. The individuals standing in the photo may be looking on with awe, as the Chief Justice Marshall bolts down the Hudson River.

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

Chief Justice Marshall, 1818-1846, Enoch Wood & Sons, Earthenware, D: 5.25in, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of Preston Bassett, N0114.1976. Photograph by Alex Sniffen

Commemoration of this sort of American icon was not uncommon, as Enoch Wood and other potters produced multiple different designs commemorating things in the United States like Independence Hall or George Washington.[7] The Chief Justice Marshall is just one of many different pieces of American history that the potters exported to the United States. While this plate may not have been used for actual meals, much like the forks in the living room, it represents a greater and overarching spirit of family and unity, and in this case – the celebration of a revolution of transportation.






[6]  Arthur G. Adams, The Hudson through the Years. Westwood NJ : Lind Publications, 1983.


I find that researching museum objects is a little like solving a mystery.  Instead of asking “who committed a crime,” I find myself asking, “why is this object important.” When I chose my neoclassical item for this blog post I knew nothing about the object other than it fit the time period, I found it easily enough in the collection, and it was used at some point in New York State.  I will be honest and say I was not overly thrilled by the foot stool.  I mean how interesting is a foot stool?


Neoclassical Footstool, 1810-1820, mahogany/pine/metal/cloth, height 16.25in, length 18.5in, width 15.5in, New York State Historical Association Fenimore Art Museum, N0013.2008(01)a-b.

Upon further inspection, I did find the footstool rather pretty, nice to look at, and in good condition. This foot stool, dated to the second decade of the nineteenth century, is one of a matching pair. Curule legs form two elegant x’s with angled rectangular feet with the legs, support, and frame all curved in shape. The footstool has mahogany veneer over pine and features white and yellow stripe upholstery. The footstool is considered “neoclassical” in style meaning that the manufacturer hearkened back to the Greek aesthetic  when choosing the shape of the piece.  The neoclassical influence can be seen in the distinct x shaped legs and oval ornament found where the x crosses.


Neoclassical Footstool, 1810-1820, mahogany/pine/metal/cloth, height 16.25in, length 18.5in, width 15.5in, New York State Historical Association Fenimore Art Museum, N0013.2008(01)a-b.

I began my investigation into the footstool by looking at the catalog record for the object in the New York State Historical Association’s (NYSHA) database. Acquired in 2008 the footstool is considered a relatively new acquisition for the collection.  The catalog record is rich in comparison to those for some other objects in the collection and provides a good object description, provenance, and date of manufacture. In the section on provenance the catalog record notes that the pair of footstools came out of a specific house in the village of Cooperstown and “have a history in the village.”  This small note piqued my interest. I suddenly wanted to know which house it came out of, who might have owned it, and why this object fit well into the house.

The catalog record said the footstools came out of the Campbell/Turner House. Nothing more.  At this point my investigation went to the New York State Historical Association’s Research Library.  I knew NYSHA had a collection known as the “Ward Files” that had photos, architectural surveys, and historic information on the houses and businesses in Cooperstown. Accessing the finding aid for this collection I found the exact house number and from there the correct two files about the house.  When I began to look at historic photos I got really excited; these footstools came from a specific place–a house I drive past every day!


Campbell/Turner House, Florence Peaslee Ward Collection, New York State Historical Association, PH10.610

I did not recognize the house right away. In many of the historic photos the façade was much different than how I knew it today. The house used to have a porch, something that definitely changed the way the house looked.  The Ward File had an architectural survey that stated the house had been built in 1810 and the porch or “piazza” added in 1833. The survey cited Campbell and Ripley’s Daybook, a daily account written for a number of years by the original owner of the house–Robert Campbell. On July 22, 1833 Campbell noted in his daybook, “Isaac C. Crane agrees to build a Piazza, Tuscan order, with columns of quartered longs or of plank, with base and capitals, – at the price of $75.00 and laying the stone foundation.” This citation noted the exact day the owner decided to build the porch, considerations of the style–“Tuscan” with “columns”–and how much it would cost.


Campbell and Ripley Daybook, NYSHA Research Library Special Collection, Volume I, Collection 100 page 65.

The Campbell/Turner house was originally built in 1808 in the distinctly boxy Federal style, but the added piazza with columns gives it a much more neoclassical feel.  It seems that Campbell was interested in the neoclassical or “Tuscan” style specifying the style in his daybook as he did. It is easy to imagine that if he was interested in the neoclassical look outside his home he might have also been interested in capturing this aesthetic inside. Perhaps this desire prompted him to buy the two footstools with curule legs.

Investigating the use of the footstools in the house led me to closely analyze the interior photos taken of the Campbell/Turner House parlor in 1935. I scoured the pictures hoping for a glimpse of my furniture, but alas there was no trace. The room did feature a neoclassical couch so perhaps the footstools in question were somewhere in the house!


Florence Peaslee Ward Collection, New York State Historical Association Research Library. Interior of Campbell/Turner home parlor, 1935, PH-10.617. Exterior view from Campbell/Turner House hand colored, PH-10.618 .

Investigating this object led me to sources I did not know existed, namely daybooks and account books from the 1800s from people who lived right here in Cooperstown, NY.  What also struck me was the variety of sources available at the library that could illuminate something like a foot stool and offer a new way to glimpse the past.

-Mary Bryn Alexander, CGP 2014′

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.