Archives for posts with tag: Women’s vote

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.

 

IMG_2701

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

 

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, http://mavcor.yale.edu/conversations/reflections-on-medium/chalkware-plaster-plaster-paris#End2 (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), http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.depaul.edu/ 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. ezproxy.depaul.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=2336350&site=ehost-live&scope=site (accessed March 26, 2017).

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.