Votes for Women: Celebrating New York’s Suffrage Centennial — the first large-scale exhibition for the New York State Museum featuring the State’s women’s history — will run from November 4, 2017 to May 13, 2018 at the New York State Museum in Albany, NY.
The only known horse-drawn wagon used for grassroots suffrage organizing that remains in existence today, the Spirit of 1776, will be a featured artifact in the exhibition. The wagon was used for suffrage campaigning in New York City and on Long Island. More recently, it has become associated with Woodstock.
In 1913, suffragist Edna Buckman Kearns, grandmother of former Woodstock Times editor Marguerite Kearns, drove Spirit of 1776 through Manhattan and Long Island, under often adverse conditions, organizing support for women’s right to vote.
Starting March 3, 2017, in honor of Women’s History Month, the Spirit of 1776 wagon will be on display in the State Capitol near the Hall of Governors on the second floor. Then it will be moved to the lobby of the New York State Museum to advertise the “Votes for Women” exhibition opening later in the year. Accompanied by photographs of suffragists who used the wagon more than 100 years ago, the Spirit of 1776 evokes the stamina, courage and determination involved in winning women’s voting rights.
In celebration of the suffrage centennial observance this year, the New York State Women’s Suffrage 100th Anniversary Commemoration Commission is funded and responsible for supporting many statewide programs of which the state museum exhibition is one. The 14-member commission also promotes the anniversary of women’s suffrage between 2017 and 2020, a century after the 19th Amendment was ratified.
“The wagon shows women that came out for this movement,” observed Jennifer Lemak, Chief Curator of History for the New York State Museum’s Cultural Education Center. “It shows the direct action of the women to get their message out.
“The Spirit of 1776 has been exhibited before, but this is the first major exhibition of women’s history for the State Museum,” Lemak said. “Over 35 institutions across the State are participating. It’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun. We started research in 2014 and drove around the State in 2015. We’re still going around the State. Ninety-eight percent of the artifacts have been selected.”
Among the artifacts included are Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s personal writing desk and early daguerreotypes, as well as Matilda Joslyn Gage’s writing desk. The exhibition will include women from contemporary phases of the women’s rights movement as well as those from the past. Bella Abzug, Shirley Chisholm, Mary Anne Krupsak and Hillary Clinton are among those represented.
There is a possibility that the Spirit of 1776 wagon will be put on permanent display at the New York State Museum in the future, as many women’s rights advocates have requested. “We’re in the process of redoing all permanent displays,” Lemak said, adding, “It might be permanently displayed by 2020, or soon after.” Asked if the Museum will mount another women’s exhibition in 2020, the national centennial of American women voting, Lemak replied, “I hope so.
Lesson plans based on the Votes for Women exhibition at the NYS Museum will be available on-line at the Museum’s website after the November opening. Teachers may bring their classes to the exhibition and go through the lesson plan, or use the catalog to follow the lesson plans in their classrooms.
The 2017 exhibition celebration also includes two traveling exhibits consisting of ten panels each depicting the history of women’s suffrage in New York State with images and prose. The panels will be displayed at various venues around the State. Most of the time slots for the traveling exhibits have been taken. The one closest to our area, Lemak said, will be in Katonah. A schedule and more detailed announcements will be forthcoming.
The “Votes for Women” exhibition opens November 4, 2017, close to the date New York women won the vote in 1917, and it ends on Mother’s Day, 2018. Historical sites lending artifacts to the State Museum will keep the items for their own exhibits until the “Votes for Women” museum exhibition is ready to begin. Suffrage centennial events have been scheduled all year throughout New York.
The 2017 bi-centennial of the opening of the Erie Canal will be celebrated at women’s history sites along the Canal in what is billed as a “VoteTilla.” A barge will make stops at all the women’s history sites where speakers will be part of special programs. The VoteTilla is sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony House in Rochester. The VoteTilla is scheduled for the third weekend in July when the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and other organizations celebrate “Convention Days,” the anniversary of the 1848 Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY.
Because the Finger Lakes region of New York State is referred to as the “Cradle” of the Women’s Rights Movement in the U.S., and in 1917 New York was the first Eastern state to grant universal suffrage to women, the state suffrage centennial initiative is bringing considerable state history to public attention.
The upcoming November 2017 exhibition and companion catalog is presented by the New York State Education Department and the Office of Cultural Education. For more information, see http://www.nysm.nysed.gov/ or call the Museum at 518-449-7860.
More information about the “Spirit of 1776” wagon and Edna Kearns is available on SuffrageWagon.org, an information resource publishing since 2009.
Information about the life and times of Elisabeth Freeman is available on a web site published by Jane Van De Bogart’s cousin—Peg Johnston of Binghamton, NY. ElizabethFreeman.org
Marguerite (Culp) Kearns is a writer of creative nonfiction. She started working for Woodstock Times for its first issue in 1972 and stayed through 1990. She loves the stories her grandfather Wilmer Kearns told her as a child about her suffrage movement activist grandmother Edna Kearns about a time in American history when women couldn’t vote and equality must have seemed like an impossible dream. She has been blogging about her grandparents and the “Spirit of 1776” suffrage wagon since 2009: SuffrageWagon.org