By Allison Stevens
Washington Bureau Chief
Thursday, March 23, 2006
The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum has launched a large digital exhibit on the suffrage movement to coincide with Women's History Month. The National Women's History Museum, meanwhile, is pushing for bricks and mortar.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WOMENSENEWS)--For nearly a century, a treasure trove of artifacts used in the campaign to enfranchise women has been aging quietly in boxes tucked away in a historic house and museum here.
But the priceless collection has been unearthed, the boxes unpacked and their contents polished and placed on the virtual shelves of an online exhibit that went live on March 3, the 93rd anniversary of a suffragist parade down Pennsylvania Avenue that relaunched the battle for women's right to vote.
That battle--a critical one in the ongoing fight for full equality in the United States--was won in 1920 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.
On display are digital images of artifacts that together reveal the story behind that battle, which is often glossed over in U.S. history books. Images show the hand-sewn banners used to picket the White House; the congressional score cards used to lobby members of Congress; the original political cartoons challenging the reigning patriarchal establishment; the suffrage newsletters that circulated the country; and the black-and-white photographs of the women who fought for voting rights.
The exhibit was three years in the making. Creators plan to use the material in conjunction with history, civics and women's studies classes at schools and universities across the country. Currently in the works is a Girl Scout badge and lesson plans that will be made available to teachers at all school levels.
"This is a new tool to get this history back on the map," said Amy Conroy, executive director of the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, a national historic landmark on Capitol Hill that houses the artifacts. The structure--just a few blocks away from the Capitol--also serves as the headquarters of the National Woman's Party and was the home for 43 years of Alice Paul, the woman who led the suffrage movement and authored 85 years ago the still-unratified Equal Rights Amendment.
Officials also hope the images will be disseminated in the media, said Laura Hubbard, a spokesperson for the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum.
"We want to get our collection out there," she said. "We definitely hope that in this election year with women being such a focus that people realize that it wasn't so long ago that women didn't have the right to vote."
The artifacts had been buried in boxes for decades at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and at an off-site facility maintained by the National Park Service.
The collection aged in boxes as members of the National Women's Party continued their push for equal rights. That began to change toward the end of the last decade, when members decided to leave the lobbying to other women's rights advocacy organizations and focus instead on educating the public about the fight for gender equality through the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum and the artifacts housed within the building.
Their first step was restoring the house and museum, a $25 million project that was largely completed in 2004. Since then, they have turned their attention to preserving the artifacts. The exhibit unveiled at the beginning of March features 400 images and is a preview of the full collection of more than 10,000 artifacts, all of which will eventually be displayed online. It was made possible by a donation of a state-of-the-art digital imaging system from IBM, the business technology firm based in Armonk, N.Y.
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