Introduction To the Project:

“I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic. Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.”

For more than 150 years, women in the United States have been fighting to gain equality in both private and public spheres—on all levels, women’s freedoms have historically been limited and suppressed. Various women’s movements have sought to correct and amend this fact; from the Seneca Falls convention of 1848 to 2017 Women’s March on Washington, the fight for equality has been long and varied. History tends to remember large, mass actions and tends to favor the stories most dramatized and politicized. Furthermore, it is easier to think about one unified, “Women’s Movement” than it is to wrap our minds around the many-voiced reality of a long fight for justice. If there is a unified movement, it is still built from the individual efforts of thousands of people whose individual identities shaped and informed their perspectives and values.

But this exhibit is not a comprehensive history of women’s protest efforts and political actions. This exhibit takes a different approach: instead of telling the grand, overarching story, we look to the little parts of larger movements, focusing on the language of the movement’s artifacts and ephemera. Inequality is never discrete and neither are reactions against it. For every movement, there are banners, buttons, stickers, pamphlets and more, each carrying the unique stamp of the woman who wore it, made it, and decided what it should say. As prominent Suffragist and women’s rights activist Alice Paul put it, the general women’s rights “movement” has never been just one thing: “I always feel the movement is a sort of mosaic,” she said in an interview in 1974, “Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.” Inspired by this sentiment, this exhibit examines pieces of the mosaic to better understand the whole.

To make things simple, we are grouping our artifacts by the three general waves of feminism: first, second, and third, as well as a section on today’s women’s movement. We think waves an appropriate metaphor as they are distinctly not discrete; in a wave, the tide pulls and pushes, blending the new and old until it all crashes into something fresh on the shore. There is, then, a lineage and a tradition that is sometimes followed and sometimes broken. With each wave of feminism and turn of the women’s movement tide, the language of artifacts and ephemera changes and grows while still retaining hints of thoughts and actions past. We believe feminism is diverse and many-storied; we hope that in this exhibit, all viewers will see themselves somewhere in this story. 

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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