Today’s editorial in the Delaware County Daily Times addresses women’s right to vote and the strange coincidences that come up in 1920 and 2020. 

They mention how in 1920 people in many parts of the country were wearing masks to ward off a virus known as the Spanish flu and how racial unrest was roiling in cities throughout the country. There were major race riots in the cities of Chicago and New York producing fears of radicals and terrorists. Most Americans were disillusioned with those in control of government. Immigration was a contentious issue and the public, wary of international entanglements, sought a more isolationist foreign policy. (Entanglement has got to be the word of the year).

A nasty presidential election was underway with candidate Republican Warren G. Harding campaign coming up with a familiar slogan of ‘America First.’

Securing the right to vote for women came after decades of agitation and protest. It also came well after the 15th Amendment (1870) granting African American men the right to vote which upset women, especially the white ones. 

This week that milestone is recognized while creating new ones in this similarly transformative time. They honor those women whose courage to risk home, life, and reputation set the stage for the leaders of today to follow in their footsteps. For certain, the quest for equal treatment of women and blacks is an unfinished quest.

Coincidentally, I visited the Brandywine River Museum of Art yesterday and stumbled upon their huge beautiful exhibit, ‘Votes for Women: A Visual History.’ 

It includes drawings, illustrations, and posters from museums, historical societies, and private collections that visualize the complex political messages conveyed by suffragists. Also included are historic photographs of marches and rallies, including the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington D.C. Examples of the costumes, clothing, sashes and other emblems of women’s activism worn by suffragists enliven the presentation, drawing comparisons between the representations and realities of women’s struggle to win the vote.

Presenting an inclusive historical narrative, the exhibition recognizes the efforts of women of color and their community networks, which have been largely overlooked, giving the false impression that women of color were absent from the struggle for voting rights.

As a way to recognize these marginalized communities, the Brandywine commissioned a diverse group of women artists to create a mural of illustrated portraits featuring some of the women whose role in winning voting rights has been historically minimized because of their race or ethnicity. The mural includes portraits of 14 local and national figures with accompanying biographies.

It was great learning of the black, hispanic, and native women who helped shape the suffrage movement. There was even a large display of a black college sorority, Delta Sigma Theta, involved in women’s right to vote. 

If you’ve got the time and are interested in the suffrage movement, I encourage you to check out the exhibit at the Brandywine until September 27.