Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, the Brandywine River Museum of Art presents Votes for Women: A Visual History, an exhibition that rediscovers the visual language of the women’s suffrage movement. The long road to women’s suffrage, spanning the 19th and early-20th centuries, played out very differently from political movements today. In the absence of televised and digital media, the suffragists spread their message through magazines, political cartoons, posters, plays, parades, and even through fashion. Focusing on the decade prior to ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, the exhibition examines the compelling imagery of the suffrage movement, revealing how the “look” of women’s rights developed and deciphering the important visual strategies that propelled it forward.
Organized by the Brandywine River Museum of Art and curated by Amanda C. Burdan, Ph.D., Votes for Women: A Visual History features more than 200 artifacts from the suffrage movement. Drawings, illustrations, and posters from museums, historical societies, and private collections provide the visual language to decode the complex political messages conveyed by suffragists. Also included is early film footage as well as historic photographs and banners from rallies and marches, including the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. Examples of the costumes, clothing, sashes, and other emblems of women’s activism worn by suffragists enliven the presentation.
While the Nineteenth Amendment finally granted women the right to vote, ongoing voting struggles persisted for minority groups following its ratification. Presenting an inclusive historical narrative, Votes for Women recognizes the significant contributions of women of color and their community networks, which have been historically overlooked, giving the false impression that women of color were absent from the struggle for voting rights. As a way to recognize women of color in the suffrage movement, the Brandywine River Museum of Art commissioned a diverse group of women artists to create a mural of illustrated portraits of some of the women whose role in winning voting rights has been historically minimized because of their race or ethnicity. The mural includes portraits of 14 local and national figures with accompanying biographies.
Votes for Women: A Visual History is on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art from February 1–June 7, 2020, and includes a robust series of public programs that explore and unlock the themes of the exhibition such as lectures, music and theatrical performances, gallery talks, and more. A related Speaker Series & Summit will focus on historic and contemporary women’s issues, featuring a variety of voices—including those of executive leaders, historians, entrepreneurs, and community activists.