No matter how much you may know about women’s suffrage, you don’t want to miss a small exhibit marking the 90th anniversary of this milestone in American history and the role Connecticut played in it. The documents, photographs and other objects on display at the Connecticut Historical Society through March remind us that this was a struggle, spanning 50 years, waged by real women (and a few men).
The entire exhibit consists of just 17 objects and fits into a dresser-like display case in the museum’s main hallway. And while it may not be comprehensive, the everyday nature of the objects adds a human element to the flat historical accounts of the period that culminated with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920.
Gazing through the glass, one can’t help wonder if the silk “Votes for Women” sash isn’t the same one worn by a suffragette pictured marching through downtown Hartford in a black and white photograph.
An entry in a diary dated March 10, 1922 simply states: “I was made a voter”. Who was the woman who wrote it and why did she wait for over a year after the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to register? We may never know, but the fun of the exhibit is the way it gets your imagination reeling.
“Votes for Women: Women’s Suffrage in Connecticut” was organized by Jessica Jenkins, a volunteer at the historical society. She got the idea while working on her master degree in Public History at Central Connecticut State University, she said.
“It’s one of those topics that everyone knows about but it was fun going around and finding items to include …objects that people [at the time] would have been touching,” said Jenkins, now a project researcher at The Litchfield Historical Society.
Other objects include buttons and post cards in the movement’s trademark purple, green and white colors. Everything in the display was culled from the collections of the historical society and the Museum of Connecticut History at the state library. Those from the state library have been shown publicly only once before, Jenkins said.
Among the documents is a yellowed “Declaration & Pledge” concerning the political rights and duties of women in the United States. It bears the signature of Isabella Beecher Hooker – sister of author Harriet Beecher Stowe and a central figure in the Connecticut Women’s Suffrage Association, a group founded in 1869. Other signers include suffragist icons Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Lucretia Mott.
Another document is a bulletin published by the League of Women Voters to educate women voters just after the amendment passed. A letter to a woman named Grace Markham from Connecticut Congressman Jeremiah Donovan, suggests some of the stiffest opposition to the movement came from other women.
“I don not believe there are many men who would not give women the ballot if they were convinced that they all wanted it,” Donovan wrote in his carefully worded response to Markham, the president of the Connecticut Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, “but all women should not be suffered to bear the duties of suffrage because a small per centage [sic] of their own sex desire to force it upon them.”