Every so often at the New-York Historical Society, you might notice a few women who are eager to tell you about the fight for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century—and they always look the part in their circa-1917 period clothing! Whether celebrating new exhibitions at the Center for Women’s History, our new short film We Rise, or women in history year-round, our trained Living Historians portray suffragists in one of our favorite programs, Living History: Votes for Women!
There are so many historical things to do when you meet a suffragist! Besides answering all of your questions about winning the vote, they’ll also tell you about their clothing from the early 20th century and what their accessories symbolize. You might even receive a handbill made by the Woman Suffrage Party in the 1910s to tell you all of the reasons why women should vote. (As if you needed convincing!)
Once you’re ready to show your support, make your very own wearable cockade—which is sort of like a badge. While marching in suffrage parades, suffragists carried signs, banners, buttons, flags, and more with all sorts of messages for those watching. You and your family can choose your own way to call for “Votes for Women!”
Our Living Historians love joining us at the Museum to answer your questions and talk about women’s history. So we wanted to know: What’s their favorite part of portraying a suffragist at DiMenna Children’s History Museum?
“As a fashion historian, I have found it fascinating to see how Museum visitors react to the antique dress I wear for weekend programs. The 1910s are a difficult time period for most people to place because the fashions reflect traces of the elaborate designs from the Edwardian era, yet appear reasonably modern due to the absence of the corset. It has been a wonderful opportunity to educate visitors on the long struggle for women’s voting rights and the concurrent fight for dress reform from the mid-19th century and into the 20th.”
“One of the most rewarding experiences of teaching is that ‘a-ha!’ moment you receive from children who understand a concept. When I’m portraying a suffragist from a century ago, seeing those moments from young ladies speaks to me about how far we have come in the fight for equality—but also how far we have left to go in that fight.”
“My favorite moments have been when we excite both children and grown-ups alike. It’s really something when the children are so engaged in the craft or conversation—and then you look over at the parents and they are clearly moved and excited as well.”
“This experience interpreting the suffragist movement as a black woman has been empowering. The involvement of both African American men and women in the suffragist movement has been either hidden or completely overlooked, and it has been a pleasure to rediscover and share these stories with the New-York Historical Society.”
“It’s been incredibly inspiring to interpret the New York women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century and to shine a light on a variety of different angles—everything from the history of the movement and its origins overseas, to the political groundswell and activism it inspired, to its effect on cultural norms and even clothing of the era! It’s been especially exciting to explain the meaning and symbolism behind the suffrage postcard propaganda, the sort of ‘social media’ of the time, allowing our visitors to interpret images in new ways and draw their own parallels between 1917 and 2017.”
Have our Living Historians inspired you? We hope you bring your questions about women’s suffrage to the Museum this weekend! And don’t forget to keep an eye on our Family Programs Calendar for other upcoming days with Living Historians.
– J.M. Wasko, DiMenna Children’s History Museum