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Out of the Debris, a Stone Goddess

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Author Topic: Out of the Debris, a Stone Goddess  (Read 229 times)
Kara Sundstrom
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« on: March 03, 2013, 02:01:53 am »


During early marches for women’s voting rights, activists calmly handed out pro-suffrage sashes and buttons while male onlookers screamed abuse and sometimes dressed sarcastically in drag.

The souvenir propaganda was immediately deemed worth preserving.

“The suffragists themselves, many of them were really, really excited about memorabilia and collected it,” Kenneth Florey, the author of a book due this spring, “Women’s Suffrage Memorabilia: An Illustrated Historical Study” (McFarland & Company), said in a phone interview.

As part of the March 3 centennial celebrations of the Woman Suffrage Parade in Washington, protesters’ newspapers, banners, badges, photos and clothing are on view at the Newseum, the National Press Club (with loans from the National Women’s History Museum), the Daughters of the American Revolution Museum, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, long owned by the National Woman’s Party.

The 1913 marchers ended up swarmed by jeering men, and dozens of women were injured and hospitalized. In an evocative 1913 letter displayed at the National Museum of American History, Florence Hedges, a protester, recalled that the suffragists “could feel the hot breath of the people — often whiskey-laden — in their faces.”

Collectors now vie for mementos of the women’s ambition and the discrimination against them. Medals that British activists received after hunger strikes in prison can cost tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

In the past few months, batches of 19th-century suffragist correspondence have sold for up to $9,000 each in auctions at PBA Galleries in San Francisco. The writers were Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first female ordained minister in America, and her sister-in-law Elizabeth Blackwell, the country’s first female medical school graduate.

Sarah Baldwin, the owner of the E. Wharton & Company book and memorabilia gallery in Crozet, Va., said suffrage letters can provide glimpses into the mindsets of activists. Her gallery once sold a note from the labor leader Samuel Gompers marveling at his friend Susan B. Anthony’s unfazed reactions to men’s insults.

“She steeled herself not to mind, not to answer back,” Ms. Baldwin said.

One of the field’s largest collections belongs to the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust. It has acquired stockings with pro-suffrage mottos, among other oddities, and cartoons of hags labeled “suffragettes.” The term, although widely used, is considered condescending and derogatory among cognoscenti.

“That’s just a raw nerve in our family,” said Coline Jenkins, a Stanton descendant who is a founder of the trust.

A case full of women’s suffrage artifacts is now on long-term view in the “Activist New York“ exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York. Restoration plans are under way for a Gothic Revival mausoleum at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx that was built for the movement’s huge benefactor, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont.
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