Museums across the country have been mounting women’s suffrage exhibits in anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Most of these exhibits have focused on the women on the frontlines of the suffrage movement, those who took to the streets, organized pickets, and coordinated mailing campaigns in support of the cause. However, another group of both men and women were equally mobilized by the suffrage issue: the anti-suffragists. The Old Barracks Museum has created an online exhibit focused on anti-suffrage and the Barracks role in that movement.
“When Women Vote: The Old Barracks and the Anti-Suffrage Movement” tells the story of how the anti-suffrage movement developed in New Jersey in the early twentieth century. A particularly interesting part of the exhibit documents the Old Barracks connections to the anti-suffrage movement. On April 15, 1912 the New Jersey Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage formed at the Old Barracks. Women in the Trenton elite who helped preserve the Barracks also participated in the fight against women’s suffrage. This direct connection between the museum and the anti-suffrage movement makes the story all the more relevant for the viewer.
The anti-suffrage movement had to grapple with an inherent tension between “anti” women’s activity and their rhetoric against the vote. Antis argued that voting would take women out of the home and into the public sphere. Yet, the work anti women did to fight suffrage also pushed the limits of the separate spheres ideology. The Old Barracks’ exhibit does an effective job of describing the separate spheres ideology and exploring how anti-suffrage women dealt with this inherent contradiction in their movement.
The online exhibit is accompanied by images of anti-suffrage cartoons, photographs of New Jersey’s anti-suffragists, and newspaper clippings related to the movement. The anti-suffrage cartoons show clearly the antis’ fear of women’s participation in the public sphere. Many focus on inverted gender roles; one cartoon captioned “Suffragette Madonna” depicts a feminized man feeding a baby. Anti-suffrage cartoons provide a portal into early twentieth-century ideas about gender.
“When Women Vote” provides a good overview of the anti-suffrage movement, an under-explored part the women’s suffrage story. The connections between the anti-suffrage movement and the Old Barracks itself makes this a particularly important exhibit not only for anyone interested in suffrage, but also for those interested in the institution’s history.