Museums and the Politics of Women’s History

The Politics of Women's History in Collections 14.3 (Summer 2018).It’s June 4th, 2019 — 100 years to the day that Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I woke to find the #19that100 hashtag firing up on Twitter, with historians and GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) highlighting the anniversary and histories of voting rights in the context of the suffrage movement. Of course, it took more than a year for the Amendment’s ratification, so look out for much more suffrage history to come in 2020.

I didn’t start out as a suffrage historian — as my fellow U.S. Catholic historian Kathleeen Sprows Cummings reminds, “the women’s suffrage movement found few allies among Catholics” — but when I arrived at Colgate in the summer of 2016, I began to be invited to talks and meetings across New York State that centered women’s history in tourism and public history campaigns surrounding the 2017 state suffrage centennial. [I had moved just 75 miles away from Seneca Falls, after all.]

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Museum of the City of New York, “Beyond Suffrage” exhibition (2018), photograph by author.

I became interested in how these conversations (and exhibition plans) quickly shifted in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, and the rapid response collecting initiatives that developed in response. And in my travels, over the year that followed, I checked in on some of the curatorial work and resulting exhibitions that came out of this moment, and wrote on them in Collections: A Journal for Museums and Archives Professionals. The suffrage anniversaries have become important 21st-century moments for revising curatorial and collections strategies to imagine the future of a feminist past, in New York State and beyond.

Thanks to some trouble with a transition between publishing platforms, the two special issues of Collections highlighting women and collections are only available in print right now, but interested readers can access my contribution “The Politics of Women’s History: Collecting for the Centennial of Women’s Suffrage in New York State,” on Dropbox, here.

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