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This Powerful Exhibit Honors Inspiring Women Who Shaped History

By Sarah Buder

Mar 2, 2020

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A group of National League of Women Voters hold up signs in the mid-1920s after the ratification of the 19th amendment granted U.S. women the right to vote.

Photo by Shutterstock

A group of National League of Women Voters hold up signs in the mid-1920s after the ratification of the 19th amendment granted U.S. women the right to vote.

“Creating Icons: How We Remember Woman Suffrage” will be on view at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History until next March.

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The National Museum of American History (NMAH) in Washington, D.C., is commemorating this year’s 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment with the appropriately titled exhibition, Creating Icons: How We Remember Woman Suffrage.

On view from March 6, 2020, through March 7, 2021, the powerful showcase focuses not only on U.S. women’s achievements in winning suffrage, but also on how the country has collectively remembered—or in some cases, disregarded—those milestones. According to NMAH organizers, the free exhibit highlights the women’s suffrage victories that are celebrated as a nation, such as the historic amendment to the U.S. Constitution that officially gave women the right to vote. However, Creating Icons also observes some moments (and people) that were excluded from the lasting narrative, “interweaving stories of the famous and the forgotten” to examine the pivotal movement that continues to impact women’s politics and activism today. 

“Creating Icons: How We Remember Woman Suffrage” features various artifacts donated by the National American Women’s Suffrage Association, among them the gold pen used to sign the joint resolution for the 19th amendment in 1919.
Significant artifacts on display include a six-foot-tall portrait of Susan B. Anthony, the 19th-century women’s rights activist who cofounded and served as president of the National Woman Suffrage Association, the late 1800s civic organization that helped pave the way for the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. The portrait, which depicts Anthony being given flowers by young children on her 80th birthday, was painted in 1900 by Sarah J. Eddy, an American artist and active member of the suffragist, abolition, and reform movements.

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The exhibition also features items donated by the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (the 1890s organization that merged the National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Woman Suffrage Association), such as the gold pen used to sign the joint resolution for the 19th amendment in 1919. Contemporary items representing modern women right’s milestones include objects from the 2017 Women’s March (which took place on January 21 in Washington, D.C., and in cities around the world), as well as a gavel used by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who is the first woman to hold this position in the United States, and also the highest-ranking female elected official in U.S. history.

Contemporary objects on display include the gavel used by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi—the highest ranking female elected official in U.S. history.

Creating Icons is the first of two signature exhibitions from NMAH’s 2020 initiative, “Year of the Woman,” which includes dedicated programming “designed to amplify women’s crucial role in history,” according to museum organizers. The second NMAH exhibition, Girlhood (It’s Complicated), opens on June 12. It examines common narratives that are often taught and learned about what it means to be girl and to become a woman.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m throughout the year (except for December 25). Admission is free, and no tickets are required.

>> Next: “I Dream A World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America” Is the Photo Exhibit You Need to See Now

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