In the course of the past 150 years, women’s efforts in behalf of social justice (including suffrage, equal rights, fair labor laws, peace, and civil rights for African Americans and gays and lesbians) have been well documented in diaries, speeches, correspondence, and meeting minutes—some passionate and intimate, others written for a public audience. But what happens to those ephemeral pieces left behind in dresser drawers or rolled up at the back of a closet, forgotten once the march was over or the election won?
The library has a treasure trove of such items, ranging from the Votes for Women sashes . . .
. . . to the iconic Victory sign, adorned by the blue bird of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association and used in their campaign of 1915.
Handheld fans in the collection commemorate the battle for suffrage. One League of Women Voters fan replicates anti-suffrage arguments from 1915 on one side and celebrates the achievements of women in political life in 1995 on the other.
Whereas banners range from large canvases that were carried in marches . . .
. . . to smaller ones that were worn—in this case, to the Harvard Commencement in 1971.
Smaller items, such as buttons, speak to a myriad of issues in the voices of women from a variety of races, ages, religious backgrounds, and sexual identities.
Among the many other objects featured in the collection are bumper stickers, magnets, jewelry, tote bags, and T-shirts, most of them created for temporary use as a means of broadcasting a strong and personal statement, although they now remain as emblems of social movements in which women were—and still are—so avidly engaged. While many were mass produced, particularly in the late 20th century, occasionally we’re lucky enough to come across a piece of homemade apparel, as modeled here by the Schlesinger Library staff member Jenny Gotwals.