The New York State Museum will open Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial on Nov. 4. On display through May 13, 2018, the exhibition honors the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State and raises awareness of the struggle for equal rights through the present day. The exhibition features more than 250 artifacts and images from the collections of the State Museum, State Archives, State Library, cultural institutions, and private lenders from across the state.
“As we celebrate the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York, we reflect on how far we have come and the fight that lies ahead to truly achieve equal rights,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “This exhibition is a learning opportunity for all of us, especially our children and students, to appreciate the immense contributions that women and men before us have made to champion women’s rights and how it is up to us to continue advocating for equity in our society, in our schools, and in our lives.”
“We are honored to share the story of how women over the course of decades fought so passionately for the right to vote for their daughters, granddaughters, nieces and future generations,” said State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia. “Now thousands of visitors to this exhibit will gain a full understanding of this pivotal moment in our history and know that the fight for equal rights did not end in 1917, but continues today.”
Votes for Women is organized into three areas: “Agitate! Agitate!” (1776 – 1890); “Winning the Vote” (1890-1920); and “The Continuing Fight for Equal Rights” (1920 – Present). The exhibition begins with the stories of countless women and men who worked for equality in the late 18th and early 19th century, the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls and the subsequent women’s suffrage movement.
Visitors will learn how powerful women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Morgan Wright helped lead the “Votes for Women” fight in New York and how New York State passed the referendum for women’s suffrage on Nov. 6, 1917.
The exhibition concludes with exploring the continuing fight for equal rights since the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, including the Equal Rights Amendment and the nationally significant role New York leaders played in advancing women’s rights through the present day.
“New York women have led the nation when it comes to furthering women’s rights, from the suffragists of 100 years ago to the activists of today, and this exhibit is a powerful way to showcase our rich history,” said Lieutenant Governor Hochul, Chair of the New York Women’s Suffrage Commission. “I hope this exhibit will educate people about the great women who came before us and inspire visitors to continue the quest for equal rights. As we celebrate the upcoming centennial of women’s suffrage here in New York, we must continue to ask ourselves: 100 years from now, how will we be judged and what can we do to help create a more equitable society?”
“New York passed state suffrage in 1917, three years before women were granted the right to vote nationwide with the ratification of the 19th Amendment,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “The New York State Museum’s Votes for Women exhibit will help educate and inspire young people across the state and country about the importance of the women’s suffrage movement in New York history and American history. I encourage all New Yorkers to visit this exhibit and celebrate the women who came together to fight for the fundamental right to vote.”
“Celebrating the centennial anniversary of women’s suffrage here in New York is extremely timely amid today’s tense political environment,” said Assemblywoman Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. “Society would not be what it is without the monumental effort from these trailblazing women. The Votes for Women exhibit at the New York State Museum will teach all visitors, especially students, the integral role that New York women have played throughout our nation’s history and the social justice movement. Education, equality and equity are lifelong pursuits and more important than ever.”
“The State Museum is honored to present this exhibition that honors the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New York,” said Deputy Commissioner of Cultural Education and State Museum Director Mark Schaming. “We are grateful to dozens of cultural institutions and private lenders for lending their best artifacts so that this exhibition is truly representative of the fight for women’s suffrage and equality across the state.”
“If New York wins in 1917 the backbone of the opposition will be largely bent if not broken,” predicted organizing genius Carrie Chapman Catt a century ago, and she was right,” said Dare Thompson, President of the League of Women Voters of New York State. “The suffrage win here was a huge shot in the arm to the whole national effort, and suffrage for all American women followed faster than even she expected. We are so proud that New York’s numerous and inspiring gifts to the 1920 victory include Carrie Catt, who also founded the League of Women Voters to educate these new women voters. And what a pleasure it is to participate in the opening of this special exhibit celebrating all the brave and visionary suffragists.”
The artifacts in the exhibition date from the 19th century through present day. Some key artifacts in the exhibition include:
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s writing desk (ca. 1855), on loan from Coline Jenkins, Elizabeth Cady Stanton Family. Stanton’s writing was a powerful tool in the fight for women’s suffrage and she would communicate her ideas in newspaper articles, convention addresses she could not attend in person, and in speeches delivered by Susan B. Anthony.
- Susan B. Anthony’s alligator purse, on loan from the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. Prominent women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony was known for carrying an alligator skin satchel in which she carried her speaking notes, pamphlets, and a copy of the transcript of her 1873 trial for voting.
- Bloomer costume (ca. 1851), on loan from Cortland County Historical Society. This bloomer costume, a symbol of women’s rights, is one of the few known surviving examples from the 19th century
- “Victory in 1917” poster, on loan from the Howland Stone Store Museum. This poster was recycled from the 1915 New York State campaign. There is evidence of a “7” patch placed over the “5”—changing the date to “1917.”
- Votes for Women Pilgrimage Petition, 1912, on loan from the New York State Library. This petition was carried to Governor Sulzer on the first “suffrage hike” from New York City to Albany. It is signed by well-known women’s rights activists including Harriet May Mills, Helen C. Mansfield, and Mary Garret Hay.
- Bella Abzug Hat and Dress (1970–1979), on loan from the Museum of the City of New York. Bella Abzug (1920–1998) was a longtime activist and proponent of equal rights for women, including during her time serving as Congresswoman for New York. Abzug was well-known for her hats and was often quoted as saying: “It’s what’s under the hat that counts!”
- Walkway Over the Hudson Women’s March Banner (2017), from the New York State Museum’s collections. A banner, featuring an image of the Walkway Over the Hudson bridge, carried by four women from Poughkeepsie who participated in the 2017 Women’s March.
An exhibition catalog, published by SUNY Press, is available for purchase for $29.95 at the State Museum Gift Shop or at www.sunypress.edu/p-6509-votes-for-women.aspx. In addition, the State Museum will offer free lesson plans for teachers based on the exhibition that empower students to use artifacts and archival material as evidence to explore the struggle for women’s rights from the 19th century through today. The lesson plans and accompanying digital resources will be available later this month on the museum’s website.
On Monday, Nov. 6, in honor of the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in New York State, the museum will open the Votes for Women exhibition for visitors (the museum is normally closed on Mondays); a guided tour will be offered at noon. In addition, a public opening reception for Votes for Women will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19 from 1 – 2:30 p.m. The program includes a reception with light refreshments at 1 p.m., followed by a guided tour of the exhibition at 1:30 p.m.
The State Museum is a program of the New York State Education Department’s Office of Cultural Education. Located at 222 Madison Avenue in Albany, the Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is closed on the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is free. Further information about programs and events can be obtained by calling 518-474-5877 or visiting www.nysm.nysed.gov.