“Votes For Women," an Upcoming Exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, Highlights the Bold Accomplishments of Women of ColorBreaking News
tags: suffrage, voting rights, womens history, Portrait Gallery, African American womens history
Kate C. Lemay is a historian at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, where she is curating exhibitions on Marlene Dietrich, the American suffragist movement, and the Spanish-American War of 1898. Her book, Triumph of the Dead: The American War Cemeteries in France, will be published in 2017 by the University of Alabama Press.
Martha S. Jones is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University, as well as president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. She is the author of All Bound Up Together: The Woman Question in African American Public Culture, 1830-1900 and Vanguard: A Political History of African American Women, coming from Basic Books in 2020.
The history of women gaining the right to vote in the United States makes for riveting material notes Kim Sajet, the director of the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in the catalog for the museum’s upcoming exhibition, “Votes For Women: a Portrait of Persistence,” and curated by historian Kate Clarke Lemay. “It is not a feel-good story about hard-fought, victorious battles for female equality,” Sajet writes of the show, which delves into the “past with all its biases and complexities” and pays close attention to women of color working on all fronts in a movement that took place in churches and hospitals and in statehouses and on college campuses. With portraiture as its vehicle, the task to represent the story proved challenging in the search and gathering of the images—the Portrait Gallery collection itself is historically biased with just 18 percent of its images representing women.
In this conversation, Lemay and Martha S. Jones, Johns Hopkins University’s Society of Black Alumni presidential professor and author of All Bound Up Together, reflect on the diverse experiences of the “radical women” who built an enduring social movement.
Many Americans know the names Susan B. Anthony or Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but the fight for suffrage encompassed a much wider range of women than we might have studied in history class. What “hidden stories” about the movement does this exhibition uncover?
Lemay: Putting together this exhibition was revealing of how much American women have contributed to history but how little attention we have paid them.
For example, when you think of African-American women activists, many people know about Rosa Parks or Ida B. Wells. But I didn’t know about Sarah Remond, a free African-American who in 1853 was forcibly ejected from her seat at the opera in Boston. She was an abolitionist and was used to fighting for citizenship rights. When she was ejected, she sued and was awarded $500. I hadn’t heard this story before, but I was really moved by her courage and her activism, which didn’t stop—it just kept growing.
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