Here at the Center for Women’s History, every month is Women’s History month, but March is still our busiest month of all. We kicked things off on March 4 with our Third Annual Diane and Adam E. Max Conference on Women’s History — now fully archived on our website — and we haven’t slowed down since. Read on for a taste of what’s been happening here at New-York Historical, and for news of events still to come in the last ten days of Women’s History Month.
Celebrating the Final Week of Hotbed
This is the final week to see our critically-acclaimed exhibition on the fight for women’s suffrage in New York State, Hotbed (closing on Sunday, March 25). Housed in the Joyce B. Cowin Women’s History Gallery on our fourth floor, Hotbed explores the vibrant political and artistic scene of Greenwich Village in the early 20th century, where men and women joined forces across the boundaries of class and race to fight for a better world. At the heart of the downtown radicals’ crusade lay women’s rights: to control their own bodies, to do meaningful work, and above all, to vote. Come and see how these bohemian women and men used new movements and media to push New York State — then the largest state in the union — to embrace women’s suffrage in 1917.
We’re celebrating the final week Hotbed with a great slate of events for a wide range of interests. On Thursday, March 22, visitors can join a docent-led tour of the gallery at 3pm and stay for a discussion of the bohemian Village with architectural historian Barry Lewis at 6:30pm. On Saturday and Sunday, March 25 and 25, from 12 – 4pm, families can join Living History: Votes for Women, and meet suffragists who won the vote in New York in November 1917, portrayed by Living Historians. Suffragists will share stories about their contributions to the battle for the ballot, their early 20th-century wardrobes, and special accessories. Learn how they marched in parades, discover what it was like to canvass the city for voters, and make a suffrage cockade! On Sunday, these suffragists will commemorate the 107th anniversary of the Triangle Fire, and highlight the galvanizing impact of this industrial disaster on women’s organizing in New York City and State. Watch this space for more information!
Event Recaps: Monumental Women, Art and Women’s Rights, and Suffrage on Stage
In addition to the Max Conference, we have already hosted three Women’s History events this month, bringing together scholars, artists, and advocates. On March 9, Pam Elam, president of the Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony Statue Fund joined Michele H. Bogart, Professor of Art at Stony Brook University and member of our Scholarly Advisory Committee for a salon conversation titled “Monumental Women.” Central Park currently boasts 23 statues of men — and one sled dog — but conspicuously absent among them are any portrayals of real women. Elam and Bogart discussed the recent initiative to bring depictions of women’s rights pioneers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony into the park, and what such an effort means in New York City in 2018.
On March 16, historian and printmaker Carole Turbin, historian April F. Masten, and Hotbed curator Sarah Gordon came together for a salon conversation to discuss the role of art in the fight for suffrage. After a walk-through of Hotbed, Turbin and Masten discussed the rise of a world of women art-and-print makers in New York City in the late 19th century. These young women were trained at design schools like Cooper Union, whose founders admitted women, in part, to give them options to free themselves from “bad husbands.” As Masten put, these new skills offered new opportunities to women: “It you were trained in the arts, it was harder to degrade you.” Women trained in new techniques such as lithography, which made color printing inexpensive by the early 20th century.
As Sarah Gordon explained, it was these new technologies — the “new media” of their day — that allowed the artists of the suffrage movement to “present a very different woman” on posters, postcards, and in magazines. Rose O’Neill, a celebrated artist and creator of the “kewpie” figures, designed one such poster that features prominently in Hotbed. It depicts a woman in a long, flowing dress — without a corset or bustle — striding forward, arm-in-arm with an equally successful husband. The poster was so beautiful that New York’s suffragists re-used it. As you can see in the image to the right, the date was changed after a failed suffrage referendum on November 2, 1915, to advertise the successful referendum on November 6, 1917. As all three speakers noted, artistic expression continues to provide women with opportunities to make their voices heard, in print as well as in protest marches.
Finally, on March 19, the New-York Historical welcomed composer and lyricist Shaina Taub to preview selections from her new musical in development. The show explores the tension between radical young activist Alice Paul, founder of the National Woman’s Party (NWP), and the experienced, moderate leader Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA), in the years before the passage of the 19th amendment in 1920. The program featured performances of original songs by Taub, followed by a conversation about women, performance, and activism with Taub and director Leigh Silverman, moderated by producer and philanthropist Diana DiMenna.
Women’s History is Everywhere at New-York Historical
Our Center for Women’s History thrives at the New-York Historical Society because our whole institution is committed to our mission. As our museum’s blog, Behind the Scenes, noted last week, women comprise 62 percent of the staff at-large and 69 percent of our senior-level executives, including President and CEO Louise Mirrer and Board of Directors Chair Pam Schafler. Reading their stories, and hearing about the women who inspire them, is a great example of how, at New-York Historical, every month is Women’s History Month.
Top Image Credits: Inez Milholland on horseback, 1913. New-York Historical Society Library