If you missed our Suffragette Tea in October you are in luck! Our intern, Megan, who helped design the Suffragette Tea menu and decorations has written a blog post about the Suffragette Movement. Please see below for more from Megan!
The history of women’s suffrage has reemerged as a relevant issue in today’s politics. With the first female candidate for presidency (Hillary Rodham Clinton) running against a man (Donald Trump) who has been deemed a shoe-in for office – if only women were unable to vote – has inspired an unsettling slogan trending among Trump supporters: “repeal the nineteenth.” With the heated debate surrounding this new mantra, the historical significance of the Nineteenth Amendment has been disturbingly overlooked.
One way to enlighten today’s voters on the significance of women’s rights to contemporary politics is to celebrate the women who achieved this victory. These women, credited with pioneering women’s suffrage movements in 19th and 20th century Great Britain and the United States, are known as suffragists or suffragettes. These activists comprised various organizations that worked to attain women’s rights, primarily the British Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). On October 16th, the Hunter House Victorian Museum held a Suffragette Tea in honor of these women who fought for women’s right to vote.
It may seem counterintuitive when analyzed in connection to contemporary feminists, but the pioneers of the American women’s suffrage movement occasionally relied on the proceeds from the sale of cookbooks. One of these cookbooks, The Woman Suffrage Cookbook, served as inspiration for our Suffragette Tea. Charitable volunteers recreated modernized versions of a few of the recipes found in the Cookbook, while copies of the originals were posted throughout the front parlor. These recipes, the sale of the Cookbook and others like it, demonstrated the independent successes of suffragettes in the struggle for personal agency and a voice in public and political affairs.
This newly created female political culture was perpetuated through the utilization of recognizable symbols that indicated commitment to the movement. The pro-women’s rights journal, Justicia, published in 1887 an explanation of the significance of the sunflower to the women’s suffrage movement:
“It has remained . . . for the ‘Equality before the law’ agitators to don an emblematic color. Yellow, the color of sunflower petals, has been adopted as the distinguishing badge of the woman suffrage army;. . . The sunflower seems an appropriate flower, as it always turns its face to the light and follows the course of the sun, seemingly worshipping the [arche]type of righteousness. Let us all don the yellow ribbon, and fling our banners to the breeze. By this sign let us be known, and the more who wear it the greater our strength will be … ”(National Women’s History Museum).
Members of the movement relied on the use of symbols and colors to signify solidarity. Adhering to sunflower imagery, American suffragettes wore gold, purple, and white, which was modeled after their British counterparts’ use of violet, white, and green. We incorporated these colors into our celebration, along with handmade reproductions of the buttons worn by the suffragettes.
(Image from National Women’s History Museum)
Tasked with planning this particular event – relying heavily, of course, on the wisdom and experience of the director, assistant directors, and docents – I became entrenched in studies of women’s suffrage and received crash-courses in public history, contemporary politics, and event planning. My hope is that, in light of today’s political culture, voters will be reminded that a political voice is not an inalienable right. To exercise the hard-won right to vote is to honor the suffragettes.
“An Introduction to the Woman’s Suffrage Movement.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/exhibit_text.html
“I’m No Lady; I’m a Member of Congress: The Women’s Rights Movement, 1848-1920.” Women in Progress: Historical Essays. History, Art and Archives: United States House of Representatives. Accessed October 13, 2016. http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/WIC/Historical-Essays/No-Lady/Womens-Rights/.
“Symbolic Suffrage Colors.” National Women’s History Museum. Accessed October 13, 2016. https://www.nwhm.org/online-exhibits/votesforwomen/tour_02-02l.html.
“Volunteers and Museum Labor.” Center for the Future of Museums: Blog. American Alliance of Museums. Accessed October 20, 2016. http://futureofmuseums.blogspot.com/2016/10/volunteers-and-museum-labor_18.html.
Burr, Mrs. Hattie A. The Woman Suffrage Cookbook. Boston, MA: Alfred Mudge & Son, 1890.