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“Freedom has not come as a gift, but as a triumph.” –Alice Paul
The 1911 victory for California women made California the sixth state to win equal suffrage for women. The California win doubled the number of women who could vote in the United States, building electoral power and support for the 1920 passing of the 19th amendment, which would give all women in the country the right to vote.
The Sacramento History Museum has unveiled a unique and wonderfully elaborate exhibition detailing the long struggle women fought to win the vote, not only in California but in all of the United States, aptly titled “We Won the Vote! 100 years of Equal Suffrage in California.”
The exhibit displays true gems of a different time, including original letters from Susan B. Anthony, original artwork by Selina Solomons, a variety of women’s suffrage posters and many examples of anti-suffrage paraphernalia, which, from a modern perspective, seems humorous in its stereotypically pre-feminist ideology, but it serves as an important reminder of where modern day society has come from. One such example, a vintage valentine, affectionately inscribed, “Some long for votes & women’s rights, and shout with great ado; I’d be content with a cozy home, a fireside, and you.”
As you make your way through the many displays, you are faced with pictures of early feminist heroes: Alice Paul, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady-Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth and many others. An original photograph from the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 hangs in a case, immortalizing the women who began the over-70-year struggle to gain the right to vote. It is alongside original pamphlets, banners, sashes and buttons which accessorize the display beautifully.
While the entire exhibition is inspiring, perhaps the most moving displays are the audio bits from movement greats Helen Valeska Bary, general secretary for the Political Equality League of California during the 1910-1911 campaign; Jesse Haven Butler, investigator for the U.S. Department of Labor; Miriam Allen de Ford, a soap-box speaker from Philadelphia; and Ernestine Hara Kettler, arrested for picketing in front of the White House in 1917.
The recollections of the movement, told by voices affected by time, spoken by women who truly dedicated their lives to a movement, and in some cases martyred themselves for the cause, leave quite an impression.
This exhibition should serve not only as a visual history of the women’s suffrage movement, but also as a reminder that the freedoms we enjoy today and oftentimes take for granted, were won by the hard work and organization of many, the dedication of lives and truly the blood, sweat and tears of our foremothers and forefathers. See for yourself and be inspired.
The We Won the Vote exhibition will be on display at the Sacramento History Museum through mid-September and will then move to the State Capital Museum, where it will be on display from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30, 2012.