From Greenwich Village to the Nation, Leading the Push for Women’s Rights

And at the center of this “hotbed” of activity in the Village was Mabel Dodge, who hosted a weekly salon in her apartment on Fifth Avenue. “It seems as though, everywhere,” she once said, “barriers went down and people reached out to each other who had never been in touch before.” Sarah Gordon and Joanna Scutts, who curated the show for the museum, sought to foreground the camaraderie among this network of liberal Village freethinkers.


A silent protest against the St. Louis Riots of 1917 during a march down Fifth Avenue.

James Weldon Johnson Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

In 1914, Marie Jenney Howe, a writer and feminist activist, wrote, “No one doubts that women are changing. We need an appropriate word which will register this fact.” Feminism was that word, and at a meeting in a women’s club a year earlier, she had asked, “What is feminism?” Just as women were changing, so was the persona of the suffragist. She was no longer the staid woman who circulated petitions and held hearings to advocate change. She was more willing to be a little loud.

Those more rebellious in spirit cast off their corsets (a mannequin in the show features this new, liberating uniform: a free-flowing smock); rallied for labor rights, racial equality and peace; spoke about the need for birth control (a topic so taboo that the mere mention of it could lead to arrest). A poster advocating responsible family planning raised the question “Mothers: Can you afford to have a large family?” Some of these posters were translated into Yiddish and Italian in order to reach working-class immigrants.

But not all suffragists considered themselves feminists. Suffragists didn’t always agree on how the movement should represent womanhood in general, but the clamor over the right to vote seemed to…

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