Pins for Women

A century of mini political mileposts
Photo by Jim HarrisonPhoto by Jim Harrison
Harvard Magazine
October 26, 2016
By Marina Bolotnikova

Tiny pins with their delicate metal fasteners still intact, some more than 100 years old, read "Votes for Women" and "I March for Full Suffrage" in faded letters. Some sit in miniature carrying cases, signifying, perhaps, that they once meant a great deal to someone. Newer pins use vivid hues and bolder fonts to match their more ambitious aspirations: "A woman's place is in the House and Senate." "Ann Richards for Governor—Texas." "E.R.A.—YES." A pin featuring Hillary Clinton, then campaigning for her husband, foreshadows this election year, in which a woman will appear as a serious contender on the presidential ballot—likely a distant dream to the suffragists of a century ago.

Political pins have been in use for at least 200 years, explains Kathryn Jacob, curator of the pin collection at the Radcliffe Institute's Schlesinger Library; the oldest pins housed there date back to the movement for women's suffrage, which will celebrate its centennial in 2020. The pins provide evidence of hard-won fights for political rights now often taken for granted; others recall battles that appear to have gone nowhere in 50, 60, 70 years. Says Jacob, "You look at some of these buttons and think, 'Oh yeah, we're fighting that fight all over again.'"

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