Women's suffrage exhibits to open Oct. 23 at Becker County Museum
Though the majority of U.S. men have been able to vote in local, state and national elections almost as long as there has been a United States of America, the road to "votes for women" has been a much rockier path. The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — which prohibited any state from denying an individual's right to vote on the basis of sex — was adopted just 100 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920.
During this 2020 election season, the Becker County Museum is celebrating the 100th year of women's suffrage with not just one or two, but four separate exhibits that are set to open Friday, Oct. 23, at 10 a.m. And from that day until Saturday, Dec. 5, the museum will be waiving its regular admission fees — though "free will donations will still be welcome," says the museum's director, Becky Mitchell.
Museum admission is normally $5 per person for adults, and free to all children under the age of 18.
To commemorate the centennial anniversary of American women's right to vote, traveling exhibits from the League of Women Voters Minnesota, the Smithsonian and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., will all be hosted by the museum at 714 Summit Ave. in Detroit Lakes until at least the first week in December, with some portions to remain open through the end of the year.
Alongside those state and national exhibits will be displays of local voting and election-related memorabilia, many of which were loaned to the museum specifically for the occasion.
"We have party membership cards going all the way back to the 1970s, and historic election posters, buttons and bumper stickers including local, county, state and national races," says the museum's programming director, Emily Buermann.
The LWV-Minnesota exhibit, titled "A Century of Civic Engagement," will be on display through Dec. 5, while the Smithsonian poster exhibit, "Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence," will be here through Dec. 31, as will the National Archives pop-up exhibit, "Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote."
Here are a few more details about each of these exhibits:
'A Century of Civic Engagement'
To celebrate the 19th Amendment’s centennial year, the League of Women Voters Minnesota created a traveling exhibit to recognize the organization’s mission and history over the past century.
Specifically, the goals of the 12-panel exhibit are:
- To recognize and celebrate a century of activism by LWV Minnesota;
- To recall our history through a lens of diversity, equity and inclusion;
- To activate visitors to educate themselves and to vote;
- To remind visitors that democracy depends on their participation;
- To empower visitors to act in defense of democracy.
The League of Women Voters does have a Detroit Lakes area chapter, with more than 30 members. The group meets on the third Tuesday of every month, with a 5 p.m. social followed by a program and business meeting at 5:30. Currently, meetings are being held virtually, via Zoom. For more information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their Facebook page .
'Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence'
This traveling exhibit from the Smithsonian is a compelling exploration of the women's suffrage movement and its relevance to Americans' lives today.
The crusade for women's suffrage was one of the longest reform movements in American history. Between 1832 and 1920, women organized to claim their right to vote, first in their states or territories and then through petitioning for a federal amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Based on the National Portrait Gallery exhibition of the same name, "Votes for Women" was created to help expand viewers' understanding of the suffrage movement in the United States. It explores women's political activism, the racism that challenged universal suffrage, and the ratification of the 19th Amendment that prohibits the government from denying U.S. citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. It also addresses the suffrage movement's relevance to current voting rights issues across America.
'Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote'
Most Americans consider the ability to vote fundamental to the enjoyment of full citizenship. American women, however, were long denied that right. In 1920, American democracy dramatically expanded when the newly ratified 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the states from denying the vote on the basis of sex.
This landmark voting rights victory was made possible by decades of suffragists’ persistent political engagement, and yet it is just one critical milestone in women’s battle for the vote. In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, "Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote" highlights the relentless struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history to secure voting rights for all American women.
The local museum, which can be found at 714 Summit Ave., Detroit Lakes, is one of a limited number of venues across the U.S. where visitors will have an opportunity to view it.
"The Becker County Museum was one of just 2,500 locations selected by the National Archives to host this National Archives exhibit," Mitchell noted.
If you go — call first
The above-mentioned exhibits will be open for viewing anytime during the museum's regular hours, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and Saturdays by appointment only — though both Buermann and Mitchell cautioned that those planning a visit should call ahead, just to make sure there aren't any large groups scheduled for a tour at that time.
"We are currently limited to groups of 25 people or less," Mitchell explained, due to state-mandated pandemic safety restrictions. In fact, this is the first large-scale exhibit that the museum has hosted since the pandemic hit in mid-March.
For those who are uncomfortable with coming to the museum in person, certain portions of the exhibits will also be made available for online viewing, Buermann said. Items in the museum's gift shop — which is also open for browsing during the above-listed hours — will likewise be made available for purchase at the museum's online store. Both the online exhibits and museum store can be found at the website, beckercountyhistory.org (click on the "Store" link at the top of the page).
For more information on these exhibits, as well as upcoming classes and programs at the museum, you can visit the website listed above, call the museum directly at 218-847-2938, or check out their Facebook page .