“Beyond Suffrage”: The Journey of Women Activists from Suffrage To The Resistance

by Kat Kothen-Hill

Waves of women with signs, with their children, with raised fists, cover the walls of the entrance to the “Beyond Suffrage” exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York. Like the exhibit itself, the entrance shows the varied stages of women’s fight for equal rights. With bright white walls, bold colors, and crisp displays, the exhibit travels through four eras of women activism: The suffrage movement of the 1920s, the behind-the-scenes political work of the ’30s through ’50s, the liberation movement of the ’60s and ’70s, and, finally, the current fight to break through the glass ceiling.

BS107 preview 972d8Museum of the City of New York, gift of the Estate of Mrs. Carrie Chapman Catt through Mrs. Alda H. Wilson, 47.225.13

Curator of the “Beyond Suffrage” exhibit, Sarah Seidman, calls it an exhibit of “a million firsts.” She said, “The inspiration was the centennial of when women won the right to vote in New York state, a few years before the federal amendment was ratified in 1920.” Since New York was one of the first and most influential East Coast states to give women the right to vote, the state, and especially the city, became a major hub of activism. Seidman refers to New York City as both a training ground and a battleground for women.

BS135 preview 072fcSuffrage parade through Madison Square, 1915, Museum of the City of New York, Photo Archives, X2010.11.10836

The point of the exhibit was to go beyond the story of how women won the right to vote. Rather, it is about what women choose to do with the vote. “Suffragists didn’t just stop being activists,” Seidman said. The exhibit explores what connects all these eras and follows the “messy paths women are following in so many different directions.”

suffrage4 808c5International Woman’s Day, March 2017, Photographed by Cindy Trinh, ©Cindy Trinh

And the exhibit isn’t just the Betty Friedans and Gloria Steinems of women’s activism. While they are both represented, the exhibit also takes care to highlight women of color, women who are lesser known, and those excluded from traditional women’s groups. “Looking at the diversity of suffragists [is important]. Trying to unpack the question of race in the suffrage movement, be that highlighting women of color involved in the suffrage movement and also their exclusion from many suffrage organizations,” Seidman said. “As with the whole show, there’s a combination of more well known women and women who have been obscured by history.”

“Beyond Suffrage” is now open to the public at the Museum of the City of New York and runs through July 22, 2018.

Header image 2017 NYC Women’s March Poster, Museum of the City of New York, 2017.27.1B. Other photos via The Museum of the City of New York.

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