About the Project

After the historic Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017, faculty at Northeastern University realized that thousands of protest signs in Boston alone were to be recycled or trashed. Archivists hurried to collect over 2,000 of these soon-to-be historic objects created “not by professional marketing firms, but by men and women in garages and living rooms.”

They weren’t alone. After the march, the Minnesota Historical Society put out a call for collection of protest ephemera—signs, pamphlets, and even the pink “pussy hats” that quickly became emblematic of the movement. These items were hand and home-made; they represent a highly particular cross section of DIY activism pioneered by women.

Protest artifacts—from banners to buttons to hats—can amplify a movement’s message and mobilize bystanders. But after everyone goes home, the signs and banners of protesters are often quickly forgotten and tossed away. We want to correct that habit by highlight the importance of women’s protest language found on these artifacts. These artifacts are often crafted by hand, arising hastily and spontaneously from the shifting social, cultural, and political circumstances that drive women to march—in other words, they are objects rife with meaning. By turning our attentions to these rich cultural objects, we belie we can pursue a more thorough, just, and inclusive examination of the history of women’s protests.

Our exhibit, “The Poetics of Protest,” examines the ephemeral artifacts of activist rhetoric—signs, banners, buttons, pamphlets, and even sheet music—in order to investigate the powerful ties between words and gender politics and tell the story of the women’s movement across the twentieth century. Our stakes are high—in examining the rhetoric of protest, we hope to enliven and expand existing conversation and awareness about feminist activism.

To create this exhibit, we were lucky enough to visit Washington D.C. and New York City for a research trip in the summer of 2017. While researching, we visited the Library of Congress, where we examined variety of fascinating suffrage scrapbooks kept by Suffragists with the help of their generous and highly skilled librarians. We also visited the Belmont-Paul House, where we learned about the history of the National Woman’s Party via their excellent Park Service guides and interpreters. In New York, we were privileged to visit the Fales Library at New York University, where we looked to the later part of the twentieth century via their Riot Grrrl archives with the help of their librarians and archivists.  Also while in New York, we were invited to visit the incredible Berg Collection at the New York Public library. Beyond the many wonderful librarians and archivists that helped us in our process, we also want to thank Kerry’s aunt Kay for giving us a place to stay in D.C.

This invaluable research trip was made possible through the generous Graduate Team Research Grant at the University of St. Thomas, for which we are incredibly grateful. The project was created and compiled by Rachel Busse and Kerry Kraemer, graduate students in the English Department, and was completed under the guidance of our advisor, Dr. Emily James. We would like to thank the University, our department, and our wonderful advisor for all of their help and generosity. 

Contact us

About the Project

This exhibit was funded by a generous grant from the University of St. Thomas and with the help of the Library of Congress, the New York Public Library, and Fales Library at NYU. You can read more about our process and project here.

This exhibit was complied by Rachel Busse and Kerry Kraemer.

© Poetics of Protest | 2018

Website design by Rachel Busse