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Women in Public Space

The founding fathers and every American official during the 1700s illustrated the great extent that men dominated politics. Even with the Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed that “all men are created equal,” women did not gain voting rights for nearly 150 years after the document was written. Through the 1800s and early 1900s, women gained confidence and established organizations to assert their own rights.

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They formed effective strikes and suffrage groups that coincided with political events in the 1900s and aided in passing the 19th Amendment in 1920, granting women the vote.

The path to suffrage began as early as the 1830s when the mill girls of the Lowell, Massachusetts textile factory, delivered fiery speeches over their poor working conditions, instilling a sense of urgency to gain power. In 1909 New York City women shirtwaist workers began picketing in front of their factories, demanding better working conditions. By this time, newspapers had the technology to illustrate their stories with photographs. Unfortunately, the technology wasn’t advanced enough to capture action moments, so most photos were posted and action moments were drawn. Figure 8. is an illustration that appeared in the New York Evening Journal on November 10, 1909. The photographs caption says, “Girl Strikers: each of whom has been arrested five times for picketing. ”

The posed photo is coupled with a drawing showing the action of police arresting the women. When controversy sparked due to the women’s formal dresses and elaborate hats, Clara Lemlich responded, “We’re all human, all of us girls, and we’re young. We like new hats as well as any other young women. Why shouldn’t we? ” The shirtwaist strike sparked dozens of garment industry strikes in other cities, including Rochester, New York.

Figure 8. 2 portrays members of Rochester’s branch of Garment Workers Union picketing in the winter of 1912 for a cut in hours. The photograph shows two women holding a sign that says, “Striking Garment Workers”, while holding mops in there hand. Another woman stands in front of the sign, very well dressed and confident. After overcoming great difficulties and four months of striking, the workers won all of their demands, except union recognition. Figure 8. 1 and 8. 2 are similar because they both show very strong and confident women, fashionably dressed and serious in their demands.

Leisure-class suffragists also faced many difficulties with trying to move their demonstrations into public spaces. Trying to gain publicity and support, they used unique techniques, such as, turning up on tugboats and in touring cars, they appeared in department store windows and movie theatres, they had bonfires and dramatic pageants. Figure 8. 3 is a photograph from the 1915 Pennsylvania state campaign, featuring a suffragist speaking before a group of working men at a factory gate. In the photograph she holds a map indicating suffrage victories.

The most successful way of gaining publicity and support was with parades. One of the largest and most well-funded suffrage movement parades was in New York City. These parades featured the participation of women of all classes, including men who supported the cause. Figure 8. 4 shows the suffragists marching down Fifth Avenue, New York City in 1913. Both Figure 8. 4 and 8. 5 show parades that drew huge crowds and a lot of publicity supporting their cause. Figure 8. 5 is the Suffrage parade that Alice Paul organized in Washington D.

C going down Pennsylvania Avenue in March 1913. The parade drew five thousand women from around the country who marched in groups with banners identifying them by their professions. Unfortunately the parade was disrupted by crowds of drunken men who opposed the suffrage movement. Ironically, the disruption only gained them more publicity, sympathy, and support because of the police’s failure to protect the marchers against the men. The last photo, Figure 8. 6, shows the suffrage militants of the National Woman’s Party picketing in front of the White House during World War I.

The college graduates identified themselves with their alma maters, just like the working-class women in Figures 8. 1 and 8. 2 did; in hopes to attract publicity to their case. Their purpose was to embarrass President Wilson by graphically pointing out the hypocrisy of a war fought for democracy while women at home were not enfranchised. The photos that I mentioned are all similar in the fact that they all illustrate strong, brave women fighting for their rights. The only way that they are different was the women themselves; some were working class while others were more privileged.

Between the 1800s and 1900s, an accumulation of skills and tactics gave women the confidence needed to lead a countrywide suffrage movement. These movements gained momentum through the 1900s and with the help of publicity and WWI, succeeded in pushing the government to pass the Nineteenth Amendment. Because the country realized the power women could gain by pursuing their rights, other underrepresented groups of Americans took the lead to push for their own freedoms and advancement in society. View as multi-pages

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