‘Beyond Suffrage’ exhibit presents 100 years of women’s political activism

This November will mark the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote in New York State, three years before the 19th Amendment extended the right nationwide. To commemorate the landmark, the Museum of the City of New York has launched a new exhibit, “Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics,” looking at women activists, organizations and politics in the century that followed their access to the ballot.

“It’s a big topic and it’s been exciting to see these threads that we’ve traced get woven together,” says curator Dr. Sarah Seidman, who also curated the ongoing MCNY exhibition “Activist New York.”

Women having the vote “redefined politics in New York and beyond,” Seidman says. Through a collection of personal objects and historical artifacts — ranging from an antique voting machine to Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine office keys, from letters to Betty Friedan to an Oscar de la Renta pantsuit then-New York Sen. Hillary Clinton wore — the exhibit establishes New York as an essential “training ground and battleground” for women.

Walls plastered with images of women marching for social welfare, for reproductive and workers’ rights, and in the Women’s March this past January, welcome visitors to the exhibit.

Four galleries tell the story of a diverse group of women from 1917 to today, ranging from early glass-ceiling breakers, such as Shirley Chisholm, to Linda Sarsour, whose image is displayed alongside a framed pussy-hat and uplifting Post-it notes preserved from the Union Square subway station.

“We’re highlighting the collective imprint on the city and its political landscape,” Seidman says. “Despite their differences, they saw government as a potential source to solve urban problems and consider participation in the electoral and governing process as a way to create meaningful change.”

The exhibit, which does not take a political stance, encourages visitors to use their voices, with an interactive voting booth that asks questions like “Are you a feminist?” and questions what the impact of electing more women would be.

Just past a collection of letters written to Hillary Clinton after the 2016 presidential election, a tablet programmed with details on New York’s female elected officials, at both the city and state levels, lets visitors check in on the role of New York’s women in politics.

And for those dressing for the resistance, a visit to the gift shop on the way out, stocked with feminist garb, is a must.

‘Beyond Suffrage: A Century of New York Women in Politics’ is on now through July 22, 2018, at the Museum of the City of New York. 1220 Fifth Ave., mcny.org

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