“Votes for Women: A Visual History” at Brandywine River Museum of Art

New York City Suffrage March, 1913. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which granted women the right to vote — although many voting struggles persisted for marginalized groups following its ratification. The long road to women’s suffrage, spanning the 19th and 20th centuries, played out very differently from political movements of today. In the absence of televised and digital media, the suffragists spread their message through magazines, political cartoons, posters, plays, parades, and even through fashion.

“Votes for Women: A Visual History,” on view through June 7 at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Chadds Ford, Pa., examines the visual culture of the suffrage movement, revealing how the “look” of women’s rights developed along with the visual strategies that propelled the campaign.

The exhibition includes drawings, illustrations, and posters from museums, historical societies, and private collections that visualize the complex political messages conveyed by suffragists. Also included are historic photographs of marches and rallies, including the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C. Examples of the costumes, clothing, sashes, and other emblems of women’s activism worn by suffragists enliven the presentation, drawing comparisons between the representations and realities of women’s struggle to win the vote.

Presenting an inclusive historical narrative, the exhibition recognizes the efforts of women of color and their community networks, which have been largely overlooked. As a way to recognize these marginalized communities, the Brandywine commissioned a diverse group of women artists to create a mural of illustrated portraits featuring some of the women whose role in winning voting rights has been historically minimized because of their race or ethnicity. The mural includes portraits of 14 local and national figures with accompanying biographies.

As “Votes for Women” further illustrates, the visual lessons of the suffrage movement provided a model for later activism, including the civil rights and social justice movements up to the present day, making it not just a centennial commemoration, but a window into contemporary discourse.

Serving as a companion to “Votes for Women: A Visual History,” an accompanying photography exhibition, “Witness to History: Selma Photography of Stephen Somerstein,” on view through June 14, continues the story of the ongoing struggles marginalized communities faced when voting following the passing of the 19th Amendment. The exhibition features 55 photographs taken during the historic 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, on March 25, 1965 — a turning point in the civil rights movement that led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Brandywine River Museum of Art is located at 1 Hoffman’s Mill Road in Chadds Ford, Pa. It is open Wednesday-Monday, 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Tuesdays. For more information, call 610.388.2700 or visit www.brandywine.org.

Hy Mayer, The Awakening, published in Puck February 20, 1915. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

[Suffragists demonstrating against Woodrow Wilson in Chicago, 1916], Library of Congress, Records of the National Woman’s Party.

A group of women at the Wilmington train station departing for a suffrage demonstration in Washington, D.C., May 9, 1914. Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

Official Program, Women’s Suffrage Demonstration in Washington, D.C., 1913. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, 1913. Image courtesy of the Howard University Magazine.