Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Votes For Women

Suffragists at Strawbery Banke 2016
Last year in the month before SBM's first reenactor'stimeline event I was looking at the lineup of military camp after military camp, and at the concentrations of groups by time period and decided the event desperately needed some women's history, especially representing the early 20th century.

As a bit of a lark I put up a Facebook post asking if any of my friends would be up to portraying a few good suffragists to help drum up support for votes for women at the timeline. I got many good responses, some of whom were actually quite serious about coming out on July 2nd, especially if I could supply costuming. A quick conversation with the head of SBM's role players confirmed that she would be happy to help with costumes (we have a 1908 house and a 1919 one) and would like to help with the group itself.

The group that came together was a fabulous mix of feminists, reenactors, and friends. Not every one was a history nerd, not everyone was comfortable portraying history in front of the public, but we all felt it was really important to respect the women who stood up for our rights by reminding museum goers of the struggle less than 100 years ago. In the few weeks before the event I convinced my dad to go through his plywood collection for some sign sized pieces, found some blank banners online, and even roped in one of the SBM summer interns to make up some votes for women ribbons we could pin to our costumes. I frantically painted signs and lettered banners, just enough for a small group of women to be recognized as suffragists.

I saved the orchard next to SBM's 1919 house for our set up, and in the week before the second I dug through my closet and went to the local thrift shops to assemble my own outfit. I was going for 1908 for my outfit. I already had the petticoats & walking skirt, but my early 20th century shirt is a warm flannel one, and my hat is a winter wool one, so a new shirt and hat were in order. Along with organizing a new event, and putting together the suffrage group I unexpectedly spent a week in the hospital just before July. I had no time to make anything, but I had a black straw hat, and found taffeta ribbon at Michaels. I wrapped the entire spool of fluffy white net around the crown of the hat to make it look like a massive (but light and airy) Edwardian hat. Then at a local Portsmouth store I found a white cotton nightgown with the right sort of details and collar. I didn't even bother to shorten the nightgown, just tucked it into the skirts and wore it like a shirt. I knew I would not get to spend a lot of time with the other suffragists, I'd be too busy managing the event. But I really wanted to dress up; and a nice shirtwaist, walking skirt, and straw hat were fine for this working girl.
Early on the morning of the 2nd all us suffragists met in the SBM costume storage rooms. Most of the ladies had not met each other before, but they all quickly bonded while getting into new and interesting costumes, and talked modern politics as well as historical. By the time I lead them out to the orchard I knew they'd have have fun and well represent our foremothers. During the day they figured out to let people try on the "votes for women" sandwich board, visitors had a good time taking photos of their friends carrying the signs. The women talked to visitors from our modern perspective about why equal rights are still important today and about the historical fight to vote. From all the feedback I heard only good things about all the conversations they had.

By the end of the day they all agreed to come back next year, and even maybe get together some other times too. We haven't done that yet, but I've got plans. I think the group will be even bigger in 2017, but I'm hoping it will be just as positive and just as much fun. I think I'll have a cool new outfit too.
Percy drives Mama in a Model A. Probably a good idea to keep my eyes closed.

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