August 2020 marks the ratification of the 19th amendment to the US Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, and across the country, an array of activities, events, and exhibits are planned for a year-long centennial celebration.
Though the amendment technically applied to all women, barriers to Native American and Asian American voting remained in place through the late 1940s and ‘50s, and women of color were primarily disenfranchised until the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The suffrage movement had a complicated history, which some exhibits will grapple with, while others will honor the anniversary in more offbeat fashion. From the big-budget displays in the nation’s capital to the creative salutes taking place around the 50 states, here are some notable ways to mark the milestone in the coming year.
Given the Smithsonian’s network of free museums, Washington, DC, is ground zero for art of all kinds, but the centennial has brought women-centered exhibitions to the fore – two of which are currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery. Running through January 5, 2020, “Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence” delves into the history of women’s suffrage in the US via 120-plus portraits and objects dating from 1832 to 1965. And through May 31, “Women of Progress: Early Camera Portraits” will feature mid-19th-century photographs of feminist icons, including abolitionist Lucretia Mott and Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe.
At the National Museum of American History through February, “All Work, No Pay: A History of Women's Invisible Labor” looks at women’s unpaid labor on the home front, including costumes from colonial America and objects highlighting how many women’s tasks cross race and class divides. Opening March 6 and running for a year, “Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage” will take a jewel box approach, displaying artifacts like a portrait of Susan B. Anthony dating to 1900, items donated to the National American Women’s Suffrage Association between the amendment’s passage in 1919 and its ratification in 1920, and contemporary items from the 2017 Women’s March.
Through January 3, 2021, the National Archives Museum is hosting “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” a collection of records and information pertaining to the women's rights movement, including photographs, documents, audiovisual recordings, and more. At the Library of Congress through September, “Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote” features personal papers from the likes of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, organizational records from the National Woman’s Party and the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and documents, images, video, and audio tracing the path to the women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls and beyond.
The Finger Lakes
Once the site of the First Women's Rights Convention in 1848, Wesleyan Chapel in Seneca Falls is now the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, and the surrounding Finger Lakes region is justly feted as the birthplace of women’s rights. To coincide with the landmark occasion, a self-guided tour of the area is now available, with stops including the courthouse where Susan B. Anthony was put on trial for voting, the home of Harriet Tubman, and the home (now an inn) of the first woman admitted to the Supreme Court bar – and the first woman to run for president.
In Rochester, there’s also the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, which is celebrating its namesake’s 200th birthday this year in addition to going all-out for the women’s suffrage centenary, and the National Women’s Hall of Fame, which is relocating to an 1800s knitting mill and reopening this spring.
Though the federal legislation didn’t go into effect until 1920, some states were ahead of the game, and Wyoming was at the forefront. Its Women’s Suffrage Act, passed in 1869 when Wyoming was still a territory, guaranteed women’s right to vote, hold public office, and serve on a jury. Long before the rest of the country caught up, the state had welcomed its first female Justice of the Peace, jury members, and court bailiff; it also boasted the first American woman to vote in a general election and the first woman confirmed by the Senate to hold federal office.
Wyoming went big in 2019 to mark the the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the state, but it’s also honoring the Constitutional amendment’s anniversary with Cody's “Women in Wyoming” exhibit, a multimedia display with large-scale portraits, audio, and interactive storytelling that's on through August 2 at Buffalo Bill Center of the West, and Casper's "Year of the Woman," which begins January 1 at the Nicolaysen Art Museum, with three rotations of art and 10 female artists.
Off the beaten path
There are less serious options, too, for those who want to pay homage. On the Ohio State campus through May 3, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum & Library will host “Ladies First: A Century Of Women’s Innovations In Comics And Cartoon Art,” a nod to the women who changed the landscape, like Fun Home author Alison Bechdel, Elfquest writer and illustrator Wendy Pini, and iconic cartoonist Trina Robbins, the first woman to draw Wonder Woman and the co-producer of It Ain't Me Babe, the first-ever all-woman comic anthology.
Puzzleheads, on the other hand, may find what they’re looking for in the northeast. The Connecticut Bar Association is throwing an 11-month-long statewide scavenger hunt, dropping a Jeopardy-style clue once a month about a historic site related to the suffrage movement and the 19th amendment. One example? “In November 1913, one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century took place across the street from this building. British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst called for ‘Freedom or Death’ in a stirring, militant 90-minute speech, urging a huge crowd to use militant tactics to win rights for women.”
A three-week cross-country bike trip offers a more action-oriented approach. The Suffragists Centennial Motorcycle Ride departs on July 31 from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Portland, Oregon, making a stop in Tennessee before arriving in DC on August 23 – just in time to celebrate on August 26, the date the US Secretary of State certified the 19th amendment.
For more information on these events and many, many more, visit 2020centennial.org.