VIRTUAL EXHIBIT: “Why Not? Women Gain the Right to Vote”
The Museums is currently closed to the public. Enjoy this and several other virtual exhibits until we reopen next season.
This exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of American women winning the right to vote and takes a closer look at what was happening on the local level in Falmouth. Its title comes from a letter Falmouth native Katharine Lee Bates wrote to the Lewiston Journal in 1917. The well-known professor, poet and author of “America the Beautiful” argued:
“Why not? Women are tax-payers, patriots, workers for every national cause,—why not citizens? Women may and do express their opinions freely on public questions, in home and school, from the platform and in the press,–why not through the ballot?”
The exhibit features a timeline of Falmouth suffrage and photos and memorabilia of outstanding local women who played a role in the movement. Women like Sylvia Donaldson, the first woman elected to the Massachusetts state legislature in 1923. She was born and buried in Falmouth. Mary (Dodd) Craig, Helen (Stone) Howland, Nellie (Powers) Burgess, Lena (Slawson) Drew and Zoulyne (Swindell) Milligan were also part of the pro-suffrage contingent.
Political cartoons and arguments for and against suffrage spark the debate and reveal some surprises. Mrs. Maisie (David) Weeks (1875-1946) owned a successful shop on Main Street for decades and employed several women there. Yet, from 1913-1915, the pioneering businesswoman is listed as the Falmouth contact person for the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.
Susan B. Anthony: The Alligator Purse Lady
The famous suffragist carried an alligator purse for so many years that it became a symbol of the woman and her cause. In a November 1853 entry in her diary, Anthony wrote, “Woman must have a purse of her own, and how can this be, so long as the wife is denied the right to her individual and joint earnings…there [is] no true freedom for woman without the possession of all her property rights.”
The purse even inspired a jump rope rhyme.
Miss Lulu had a baby, she called him tiny Tim.
She put him in the bathtub, to see if he could swim.
He drank up all the water! He ate up all the soap!
He tried to swallow the bathtub, but it wouldn’t go down his throat!
Call for the doctor! Call for the nurse!
Call for the lady with the alligator purse!
“Mumps!” said the doctor. “Measles!” said the nurse.
“Vote!!” said the lady with the alligator purse.
Girls Jumping Rope, photograph, May 26,1964; https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth531306/; Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
The Susan B. Anthony doll, a gift of Diane Huot, is in the Museums’ collection.
Rhyme and photo of Anthony’s alligator purse courtesy of National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House.
A Look at the Fashions
These photographs are from the Library of Congress Digital Collection. While white may have been the preferred color for suffrage marchers to wear, street activism didn’t stop in cold weather, when darker colors were more appropriate. Trousers, however, were not typical attire. The woman shown would have been considered somewhat scandalous, not stylish, when this photo was taken.
The clothing shown is from the Museums’ collection. The two pins on the jacket lapels are modern reproductions of actual pieces worn by suffragists. The bluebird (insert) was a symbol of the 1915 statewide referendum on equal suffrage in Massachusetts.
Skirt, c1900. Black silk skirt labeled Stearns & Co. Boston.
Blouse, c1900. White linen blouse with embroidery, lace, and mother-of-pearl buttons.
Jacket, c1915. Black wool tailored jacket with cloth covered buttons.
Shoes, c1890. Black leather lace up shoes with 1-1/2 inch heel from Grover Soft Shoes Stoneham, Mass. The company’s slogan was, “Grover Soft Shoes for Tender Feet.”
Telegraph Operators & Trains
While we don’t know whether certain women were for or against the Women’s Suffrage movement, we do know many were ahead of their time. Three local women in particular held critical positions in the workforce years before they could cast a vote. Rebecca (Hinckley) Cahoon became the first telegraph operator at Woods Hole in 1872, succeeded by Mary (Murphy) Goffin around 1900. Mary’s sister, Ellen Murphy, operated the telegraph at Falmouth’s depot from 1910-1912. Telegraphers kept trains running on time and on the right track.
Above: Approaching the railroad station in Woods Hole; Terminal & Dock, Woods Hole
Left: Vintage postcard and black & white photo of the Railroad Depot in Falmouth; and The Dude Train
Teachers and Researchers
The microscope (below) from our collection symbolizes the many Falmouth suffragists who were teachers or researchers. The instrument (c1800) with inter-changeable lenses was possibly made by “F. Nostrand.”
Mary (Dodd) Craig, was a teacher at Lawrence Academy, now the Chamber of Commerce building. She is shown below wearing her graduation cap and gown at Wellesley College in 1898. At Wellesley, Mary studied under Katharine Lee Bates.
MBL was another spot with several suffragist connections. Its director was Dr. Gilman Drew. His wife, Lena (Slawson) Drew was a suffragist, as was his secretary, Julia Rogers. Lena Drew and Zoulyne (Swindell) Milligan, another Woods Hole suffragist, were among a group of women who founded the Children’s School of Science in Woods Hole. Baldwin Coolidge took the photo of MBL researchers (above) at Quissett in 1897. The vintage postcard above shows MBL across the pond.
Mabel (Channing) Robinson
In 1914, Mabel (Channing) Robinson read a paper in favor of women’s suffrage at St. Barnabas Church in Falmouth. The Enterprise reported that the discussion was quite animated and that most in attendance were not in favor of suffrage. Born in New Bedford c1873, Mabel retired to Falmouth after a career on the stage. She appeared on Broadway in “A Runaway Girl,” and in the London production of “The Belle of New York” (1898). She was remembered mostly for her dancing; friends called her “Twinkletoes.” Near the end of her life, the Enterprise published this interview with her.
ABOVE: The advertisement of a dancer at Alhambra shows how Mabel would have been costumed for some of her shows. The taupe satin shoes, with leather interior and sole and Alexander of NY label (c1900), were typical of what Mabel would have worn.
LEFT: Mabel is not in this picture of a production of The Belle of New York. She wasn’t in the chorus, as shown here, but played a supporting role, with her own musical number in Act One. T