Celebrating Suffrage

A look at the upcoming  ‘What is a Vote Worth? Suffrage Then and Now’ exhibition at the Frazier History Museum

By Chloe Games
Photos courtesy of
Frazier History Museum

2020 is a year earmarked for celebration. A century ago, the long fight for womens’ rights culminated in the landmark passage of the 19th Amendment. The movers, shakers and paraders who had put their hearts into the suffrage movement secured for generations to come the power of the vote that we enjoy today. Forty-five years later, the Voting Rights Act was passed and these freedoms were secured for everyone. But, how did this change happen? And, does voting really matter? These are the questions that the folks at the Frazier History Museum were pondering in late 2017.
Penny Peavler was the CEO of the museum when the staff and board began to talk about the significance of these dual anniversaries. In order to explore how we got here and why voting matters, Peavler and Cissy Musselman – a fellow proponent of women’s rights – pulled together a team of Louisville’s own women’s history experts and trailblazers.Former councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton signed on immediately. Working in politics has given her a distinct awareness of just how powerful the vote really is, and furthermore, “I’ve always believed that your vote is your voice,” she says. “Nothing is more powerful for each individual than your vote.”
Hamilton, Peavler and Musselman were joined by women’s history expert Eugenia Potter, Judge Denise Clayton, Marsha Weinstein and Tina Ward Pugh, who helped engage over 100 different partner organizations. Thanks to their efforts, 2020 will be a year full of opportunities to reflect on the power of the vote and inspire the community to engage with this power. “There’s not one person or organization or company that’s said no to anything we’ve asked for,” Musselman says. “They know that the 19th Amendment was important for their wives, their mothers, their sisters.”
Kicking off the commemoration, “What is a Vote Worth? Suffrage Then And Now” opens this spring at the Frazier History Museum, where visitors will have the chance to walk through time. “The exhibition begins with life before suffrage and talks about what life was like for women, about the rights that they had or didn’t have,” Peavler says. A story of the women who marched, spoke and ultimately voted their way towards change is tangible in a collection of objects. One of particular significance is a copy of the “Woman’s Bible” on loan from the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Trust Collection and a pair of boots worn by local suffragette Evelyn Glass.
Amanda Briede, who is curating the exhibit, says, “Visitors can also look forward to seeing some examples of the evolution of women’s fashion while the fight for women’s suffrage was taking place. We will feature historic dresses and undergarments to demonstrate how the growing freedom of women was reflected in the fashion of the time.”The exhibition will also highlight some lesser-known stories of Kentucky’s own suffragists. “One of the things that I’m really excited about regarding this exhibit is the ability to share the stories of some hidden figures of the women’s movement,” Peavler says, “and particularly to share the stories of some influential African American women that you may not have heard of, such as Dr. Mary Briton.”
The first female and African American doctor in Lexington, Briton has an exceptional story. Hers is only one among many others that will be told at the Frazier. For Hamilton, it’s essential to honor women like Briton. “It’s important to share these stories,” she says. “Never forget on whose shoulders we stand: the many women who opened the door or broke it down.”
Outside of the museum, you will find many other opportunities to be a part of the city-wide celebration. “Every month, something will be going on around this theme,” Musselman says. The commemoration is sponsored by Wells Fargo and involves community partners and institutions including the Louisville Metro Office for Women and the League of Women Voters. The festivities will not only help us to reflect on the past but to look toward our future and empower the community – using the power of the vote to bring about the change we want to see in Louisville. “We’re all working together to move the needle forward toward increasing voter participation,” Peavler explains. “We expect that by shining a light on the value of the vote, we will not only uplift women and their stories but all people.” V

A full calendar of Louisville’s suffrage and voting rights activities can be found at fraziermuseum.org/womenvoteevents. More information about the exhibition can be found at fraziermuseum.org/upcoming-exhibitions.

Access the Jefferson County Public Schools educational resource at whatisavoteworth.org. This resource is provided by the Wells Fargo Foundation, The Brooke Brown Barzun Philanthropic Foundation and private donors.