2020 marks an important anniversary in US women’s history- the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Museums and historic sites across the country had planned countless exhibits and events to commemorate this anniversary; however, the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted many of these plans. In response, some sites are shifting their commemorations to the digital sphere. The Allison-Antrim Museum in Greencastle, Pennsylvania recently released an online version of its suffrage exhibit.
The exhibit “Women’s Suffrage and the Progressive Era” was the product of a collaboration between the Allison-Antrim Museum and Wilson College. The Hankey Center for the History of Women’s Education at Wilson College loaned the museum a collection of suffrage pamphlets from its collection. In 2007, Dr. Dr. Kay Ackerman, associate professor of history at Wilson, created a timeline of woman’s suffrage milestones, which is included in the exhibit. Alongside these components, the Allison-Antrim Museum has installed garments from its collection reflecting women’s fashion during the suffrage campaign.
These two main types of artifacts create a nice balance between material culture and documents within the exhibit. The dresses, jackets, and hats on display help visitors envision the world of the women suffragists. The collection of suffrage pins also begins to hint at the strong role that material culture played in the campaign; women sold pins, posters, and other paraphernalia to raise money while spreading the suffrage message.
As a historian who has researched Pennsylvania’s suffrage movement, I particularly enjoyed the pamphlet collection. Some of these I had seen before, but many were new to me. The Pennsylvania Woman Suffrage Association flyer that refuted anti-suffrage claims provides insight into the other side of the suffrage campaign. Disappointingly, the Allison-Antrim Museum did not upload all the pages of these pamphlets to the website. I wanted to read “The Wage-Earning Woman and the State”, however, only the title page of this pamphlet was available. That being said, the pamphlet collection provides a good look into the political thought motivating Pennsylvania’s suffragists.
“Women’s Suffrage and the Progressive Era” is anchored by two strong collections. The combination of material culture and political documents illustrates how women used many different tactics in their pursuit of the vote. While it is disappointing that many will never get to see this exhibit in-person, it is a boon to those of us who live far away from Greencastle that the museum has moved it online.
The Allison-Antrim’s digital suffrage exhibit can be viewed here.