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MAC exhibit celebrates anniversary of women’s suffrage

Right to vote granted in 1910 in Washington state

The cloak of Susan B. Anthony, the country’s most famous suffragist.

The purse of May Arkwright Hutton, the Inland Northwest’s most famous suffragist.

The bag of women’s lib buttons collected by Spokane’s Marion Moos during the battle for women’s equality in the 1970s.

Marsha Rooney, senior curator of history at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, counts the cloak, the purse and the buttons among her favorites of the 200 artifacts that will be part of “Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices.”

The exhibition, opening Saturday at the MAC, is a celebration of women getting the right to vote in Washington in 1910, a full decade before the 19th amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution. It also celebrates other women’s equality efforts of the past 100 years.

Spokane is the last stop for the exhibition, which has traveled throughout the state. The museum will host it until May 7, 2011.

That gives Inland Northwest women, children, young adults – and even the men out there – six months to get to the MAC to understand the Washington suffrage struggle and its aftermath.

“I grew up in the Northeast and knew plenty about Seneca Falls and the women’s movement that started there in 1848, and I knew about Susan B. Anthony, but I didn’t have a picture of what happened before 1920,” Rooney said. “Discovering Washington’s version of this story was fascinating.”

Did you know that women living in Washington Territory got the right to vote in 1883? In 1888, just a year before Washington became a state, the Washington Territorial Supreme Court revoked the right, arguing that the proper sphere of women was the home, not civic life.

Women (and men) of Washington fought on, and women regained the right on Nov. 8, 1910, when male voters throughout the state, by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, approved an amendment to the state constitution.

(Idaho women, by the way, had gotten the vote in 1896, and it was never revoked.)

“When Washington finally gave women the vote, it made a tsunami toward approval in a number of other states,” Rooney said.

The exhibition carries the movement far beyond the 1910 tsunami. You’ll discover:

• Women in immigrant and minority groups waited years, and even decades, for the same voting rights as Caucasian women. Native American women got voting rights in 1924, Chinese immigrants in 1943. Japanese and other Asian immigrants? Not until 1952.

• By World War I, the vote had empowered Washington women to get involved in the home-front war effort, unlike women in states where they lacked a political voice.

“They sold Liberty Loan Bonds … and took on the job of conducting censuses and distributing war-related information,” writes Shanna Stevenson in the exhibition’s companion book “Women’s Votes, Women’s Voices: The Campaign for Equal Rights in Washington.”

• Because of the 1910 vote, Washington had an early awareness of women’s role in political life.

Some political scientists believe the early involvement led to higher numbers of women in elected office in modern time.

Consider:

Washington consistently makes the top-10 list of states with the highest number of women legislators; almost 33 percent of the state Legislature is made up of women, down slightly from the peak high of 40 percent in 1996, 1999 and 2000.

Washington has a woman governor, four women on the state Supreme Court, plus three women who represent the state in Congress.

Nearly two dozen other Inland Northwest organizations helped the MAC promote the centennial exhibition, including the League of Women Voters, Hutton Settlement and the Woman’s Club. Many of the organizations will tie their 2010-’11 special events and programs into the exhibit.

For instance, on Nov. 6, the Spokane Regional Labor Council will sponsor a daylong workshop at the MAC titled “Equality for All: The History of Women and the Labor Movement.”

Now, back to the men. What’s in the exhibition for them?

“Well, there were men who were very much in support of the movement,” Rooney pointed out. “And the politics of it is fascinating.”



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