A traveling exhibition celebrating the women’s suffrage movement has arrived at the DeForest Area Historical Society.
John Englesby, curator of the historical society, is struck by its importance and the courage of protestors who brought about change.
“I can’t believe that 100 years ago women couldn’t vote in this country,” said Englesby. “The bravery and tenacity of those women to stand in the rain with men throwing rocks at them … it’s hard to imagine.”
The exhibit is now up and available for viewing at the historical society, located in the DeForest Area Public Library. It is planned as a two-week exhibition that will close Aug. 1.
It consists of eight banners that were part of a huge year-long celebration “The Woman’s Hour Has Struck” in the Wisconsin State Capitol rotunda last year. They give a detailed history of the women’s rights movement, telling the stories of the major players and the events that took place in the fight for suffrage and beyond.
The traveling exhibit is titled “We Stand on their Shoulders,” and it starts with the 19th Amendment and tells the story of women’s political leadership in Wisconsin since 1982.
Englesby and the historical society had big plans for the exhibit. Some were squashed by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our gals were going to dress up in suffrage era clothes for the July 4 parade,” said Englesby. “Of course, that was all canceled.”
When he heard about the traveling display, Englesby wasn’t sure if the exhibition was a good idea, due to coronavirus restrictions. In talking to Library Director Jan Berg, it became more of a possibility. Berg told him that as long as the historical society was following COVID-19 protocols, she thought it was a nice thing for patrons to see.
Englesby noted it’s not expected to draw big crowds. He explained that the exhibition is designed for high school level students and adults.
Wisconsin has been credited as the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which granted women in the United States full voting rights. Interestingly, one of the banners tells how Native American women were able to vote before Caucasian women because of tribal laws. Black citizens weren’t allowed to vote until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Englesby had hoped to hold an open house for the exhibition. COVID-19 made that impossible.
In fact, the DeForest Area Historical Society had been closed, along with the library, until only recently. The historical society’s volunteers haven’t been comfortable helping out in-person, according to Englesby, although he said he’s gotten a lot of calls. Englesby also noted how the Hansen-Newell-Bennett House has been closed as well in talking about the historical society’s activity.
August of 1920 was when most states had ratified the 19th Amendment. So, this is a key anniversary year for women’s suffrage.
The historical society has included some of its own artifacts in the exhibition, including period hats and flapper dresses.
Englesby said he went to Port Washington a week ago to pick up the traveling exhibit from that community’s historical society. When Aug. 1 comes and goes, it’ll be taken down and moved, with the next organization picking it up. Englesby doesn’t know who that will be.
Englesby is glad to have it, though, and hopes the community will get a chance to see it before it departs.
The exhibition will complement two programs the library will host in August. Historian Laura F. Keyes will give a presentation on women’s rights advocate Elizabeth Cady Stanton on Wednesday, Aug. 19, at 6:30 p.m. It will be a Zoom event.
Before that, on Thursday, Aug. 6, there will be a virtual program entitled “Black Male Suffrage in Early Wisconsin,” presented by Dr. Christy Clark Pujara, assistant professor of history, Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. It will tell the story of Ezekiel Gillespie, a Black Milwaukee resident, who asked that his name be added to the list of eligible voters on Oct. 31, 1865.