Sash Memorial display February 2021 at Hobart & William Smith Colleges
Why Sash Memorial now?
Voting is the bedrock of democracy, and our constitutional right and duty as citizens. From buttons and t-shirts to bumper stickers and lawn signs, people have consistently adorned their worlds with everyday objects to announce how they will vote, that they do vote, and-- maybe above all--that they are proud to vote. These objects are important symbols that speak about who we are and that build solidarity within political and social movements. Sash Memorial harnesses this power by inviting participants to update the iconic “Votes for Women” sash that the Suffragists wore. By including names of contemporary role models, this community-built project celebrates and uplifts all people. Through recognition of individuals, Sash Memorial shows us how we are one country made of many. E pluribus unum!
This election year marks the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which enfranchised all women, giving them the right to vote in all local and national elections. Such an important step forward in our nation’s history was fought for by women and their allies for nearly a hundred years, beginning with the Seneca Falls Convention, held in 1848, which launched the movement.
The suffrage movement was born out of the fight to end slavery but it was not without its flaws. Soon after the Civil War, the movement split when some refused to support black male suffrage, which was legally realized before universal suffrage. Though the movement eventually came back together in the early 20th century, this fracture alienated women of color, leaving them out of the national political conversation and consequently out of most written history. Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, segregation, racism, and Jim Crow laws denied the constitutional rights of millions of Americans. The civil rights movement of the 1960s fought for passage of the Voting Rights Act, which federally protected the right to vote, but even today efforts to restrict access to voting still exist.
In the unbalanced history of the United States, the right to vote was a hard-won triumph for the enslaved, for women, and for the disenfranchised. Once achieved and secured, voting became--and is--a powerful weapon for those whom society overlooks and oppresses. The struggle is not over, and voting remains an important tool to make this country more equitable and just.