Women’s suffrage – celebrating the centennial

Women earned the right to vote in 1917 in New York and in 1920, nationally.

So it’s no surprise that this year is filled with events, exhibitions and celebrations throughout New York to mark the centennial.

One commemoration brought WAG to the Museum of the City of New York earlier this month for a sneak peek of “Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics.”

The groundbreaking exhibition, which opens Oct. 11 and continues into next summer at the Manhattan institution, traces women’s political activism in the state, from the struggle to win the right to vote through the present day. Along the way, topics touched on range from housing to health care, along with workplace, gender and environmental concerns – and so much more.

Spotlighted are familiar stories and faces, many with local ties – think Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Bella Abzug, Geraldine Ferraro and Carrie Chapman Catt – but also some lesser-known champions and struggles finally get their due.

The well-designed exhibition, a visual as well as educational powerhouse, offers countless highlights. Visitors can travel through four distinct sections (Securing the Vote, Navigating the System, Liberation from the Top Down and Bottom Up and Breaking the Glass Ceiling?) as they read, watch and listen to the multimedia components. Included are more than 200 rare artifacts such as documents, costumes, photographs, magazine covers and an impressive array of memorabilia that helps bring the story to life.

Among the most evocative items are the “Opening Doors for Women” keychain holding Steinem’s Ms. magazine office keys; a 1935 black dress worn by Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters; a potent Bella Abzug speech, playing on a monitor in the shadow of one of her trademark hats; and the centerpiece, an interactive voting station.

In opening remarks, Whitney Donhauser, Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum of the City of New York, said that the exhibition has a broad reach, with many of “the city’s stories” resonating across the nation.

And, she added, she hopes it will also prove inspiring.

“We don’t promote any political position, but it does promote the idea of being part of the political process.”

And MCNY isn’t the only institution observing – or inspired by – the 100th anniversary. Among the offerings:

  • ArtsWestchester’s “Give Us the Vote,” an examination of the state of voting rights in America today, opens Oct. 10 and will run through Jan. 27 in White Plains.
  • The New Castle Historical Society opens “New Castle’s Carrie Chapman Catt & the Women’s Suffrage Movement: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage in New York State” from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 13 at its headquarters, The Horace Greeley House in Chappaqua. The exhibition will continue until June 2018.

  • The New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, which WAG recently visited for the Editta Sherman exhibition, will soon celebrate the Nov. 3 premiere of its new film, “We Rise.” The specially produced documentary, narrated by Meryl Streep and featuring “We Are Here,” a song written and composed by Alicia Keys, “places women at the center of political thought and action that reshaped the country in the early 20th century,” advance materials say. Opening the same day as the film’s premiere, “Hotbed” will be the latest exhibition from the Society’s Center for Women’s History, spotlighting “the bohemian spirit of early 20th-century Greenwich Village and the crucial role of the neighborhood’s female artists and activists in winning the vote.”

For more, visit mcny.org; artswestchester.org; newcastlehs.org; and nyhistory.org.

– Mary Shustack

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