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Displaying History

The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was determined that their organization, not the publicity-grabbing militants of the rival National Woman’s Party (NWP), would be remembered as leading the long fight for women’s votes. The suffrage story they told in their display of historical souvenirs had a deliberate beginning and end. It started in 1848 with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Declaration of Sentiments and ended with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and recent NAWSA presidents Carrie Chapman Catt and Anna Howard Shaw. The narrowly focused display would define the Smithsonian’s narrative of woman suffrage for decades.

"There can be no question of the historical importance of the movement initiated by Miss Anthony and now carried out to a successful ending."

William Henry Holmes
Head Curator, Department of Anthropology
Smithsonian Institution, 1919

Suffrage at the Smithsonian

In June 1919 Congress approved the Nineteenth Amendment and sent it to the states for ratification. Aware of the historical significance of what they were poised to achieve, officers of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) approached the Smithsonian Institution with a portrait of Susan B. Anthony and other suffrage memorabilia. Working with Smithsonian curators, they created a display that highlighted the contributions of their leaders, especially Anthony. Her niece Lucy called the display in the national museum “the crowning glory to everything.”

National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) display, around 1925

National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) display, around 1925

Gold pen, 1919

Pen used to sign the congressional joint amendment for the Nineteenth Amendment.

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Wooden pen, 1920

Pen used by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby to sign the certificate of ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 26, 1920.

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Cup and saucer, around 1838

Cup and saucer purchased by Susan B. Anthony with her first paycheck as a gift for her mother.

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Gold watch and chain, around 1838

Susan B. Anthony purchased this gold watch and chain with money from her first paycheck.

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Flag pin, 1900

Pin given to Susan B. Anthony on her 80th birthday by the women of Wyoming.

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Certified copy of the congressional joint resolution for the Nineteenth Amendment, June 1919

This certified copy was presented to NAWSA secretary Helen Gardener.

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The Declaration of Sentiments table

The Declaration of Sentiments, a demand for women’s rights (including the vote), was debated and approved at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. Susan B. Anthony did not attend. Early exhibit labels misidentify the table Elizabeth Cady Stanton used when drafting the Declaration as “Miss Anthony’s table.” The error was corrected in later displays.

Gift of National American Woman Suffrage Association

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Susan B. Anthony’s silk shawl

It was said that one of the signs of spring in Washington, D.C., was the sight of Anthony’s signature red shawl in the halls of the Capitol as she lobbied for the vote.

Gift of National American Woman Suffrage Association

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Sign, Susan B. Anthony Memorial Room

This brass sign designated the room at NAWSA headquarters set aside to the memory of Susan B. Anthony.

Gift of National American Woman Suffrage Association

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