Arts and the Suffrage Movement

Local suffrage organizations used a variety of creative strategies to engage the public.

The arts can be powerful tools for social and political change. Local suffrage organizations used a variety of creative strategies to engage the public. They organized historical pageants and skating carnivals. On special “suffrage days” they decorated downtown windows. They held sing-alongs and backyard teas, and organized sewing parties to create beautiful banners. Some of the most popular events were suffrage musicals, ballets, and theater productions.

For a week in January 1915, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association sponsored showings of the suffrage melodrama "Your Girl and Mine" at the New Garrick Theater in downtown Minneapolis. Produced by Mrs. Ruth Medill McCormick and William Selig in Chicago, it was the first large-scale suffrage film or “photo-play.” The film depicted the trials of women and children who had few legal rights. Poverty, child labor, poor housing, alcohol abuse, and child custody battles all played out on screen.

One of the most successful cultural events was staged by the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association in February 1917. Over a thousand attendees filled the auditorium of Minneapolis’s Central High School for an evening of entertainment featuring short Swedish and Norwegian plays, musical performances, and an elaborate carnival scene. Performers in national costumes, singing in their native tongues, made politics entertaining.

Native Americans also used the arts to raise the consciousness of white Minnesotans about their struggle for citizenship. Several hundred people attended a pageant held by the Society of American Indians (SAI) at the Auditorium in downtown Minneapolis on October 3rd, 1919. It featured dances, a theatrical performance, and speeches. After the pageant, two hundred SAI delegates, representing twenty-five tribes and nations, drafted a resolution calling for the end of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In their view, this institution served as a tool of colonization and an opponent of Native autonomy.

Images

New Garrick Theater, 40 S 7th Street, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota

New Garrick Theater, 40 S 7th Street, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Minnesota

Ca. 1925 | Source: Minnesota Historical Society MH5.9 MP3.1N r22 View File Details Page

"Movies to Aid Suffrage Cause," <em>Minneapolis Sunday Tribun</em>e, Nov. 1, 1914

"Movies to Aid Suffrage Cause," Minneapolis Sunday Tribune, Nov. 1, 1914

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Zitkala-Ša (1876-1938) and Native Americans' Struggle for Citizenship<br /><br />

Zitkala-Ša (1876-1938) and Native Americans' Struggle for Citizenship

Wealthy white women are often portrayed as the central characters in the women's suffrage movement, but women of color also struggled for citizenship. In their quest for political rights, Native women in particular had to navigate the complex maze of federal bureaucracy. Zitkala-Ša, also known as Gertrude S. Bonnin, is an important figure in Native American history. She was also central to the fight for civil rights in the 1910s and 1920s. Zitkala-Ša came to Minneapolis often during her tenure with the Society of American Indians (SAI), an organization advocating for Native American rights, including full citizenship. Native arts proved to be a powerful tool to raise the consciousness of white Minnesotans. Several hundred people attended a pageant held by the SAI at the Auditorium in downtown Minneapolis on October 3rd, 1919. It featured dances and a theatrical performance about diplomacy during the Seven Years™ War. Zitkala-Ša made a speech welcoming the audience. After the pageant, two hundred SAI delegates, representing twenty-five tribes and nations, drafted a resolution calling for the end of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In their view, this institution served as a tool of colonization and an opponent of Native autonomy. Zitkala-Ša wrote in 1922 on the mistreatment by the federal government under the Bureau. She accused the Bureau of offering “sham protection” to Native peoples. For over a century, Bureau officials had subverted funds, misappropriated resources, and profited from relationships with corrupt trustees. She concluded: “Wardship is no substitute for American citizenship, therefore we seek … enfranchisement. We would open the door of American opportunity to the Red Man and encourage him to find his rightful place in our American life. We would remove the barriers that hinder his normal development.” For Indigenous peoples, full enfranchisement needed to extend well beyond voting rights.Sources:“Pageant Is Indians™ Plea For Citizenship,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Oct.4th, 1919, p.17“Indians Ask Greater Control of Affairs,” The Tomahawk, Oct. 10th, 1918, p.1  “Government Machinery is Inadequate,” The Tomahawk, July 13th, 1922, p.1 | Source: Photographer: Joseph T. Keiley, 1869 - 1914 Date: 1898 (printed 1901) National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution S/NPG.79.26 | Creator: Grant Berg View File Details Page

Newspaper article: “Pageant Is Indians�&#8482; Plea For Citizenship,” <em>Minneapolis Morning Tribune</em>, Oct.4th, 1919, p.17.

Newspaper article: “Pageant Is Indians™ Plea For Citizenship,” Minneapolis Morning Tribune, Oct.4th, 1919, p.17.

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Suffrage Entertainment

Suffrage Entertainment

Program from the Scandinavian Woman Suffrage Association's evening of music, theater, and entertainment, which drew hundreds of attendees. Central High School, Minneapolis, MN, February 28, 1917. View File Details Page

Suffrage Banners

Suffrage Banners

The British suffragette, Mary Lowndes, founder of the Artists™ Suffrage League, saw banner-making as a way to construct a "visual vocabulary" for the movement. Putting her skills as an artist to work, she created dozens of elaborate banners to be used as heraldry in the suffragette demonstrations. The banners were made by hand in sumptuous fabrics, embroidered and appliqu©d with women's names and symbolic emblems of birds, flowers and lamps. In her pamphlet, “Banners and Banner-Making,” Lowndes gives some basic design advice to aspiring banner-makers: choose colors from nature – e.g delphinium blue; make sure it doesn™t look like a bed sheet; draw ideas from heraldry; don™t use anything ugly just because it™s lying around the house The American version of banners were far less elaborate, often adopting simple color schemes and plain block letters. Gold, white and purple were the unofficial colors. The Suffragist (Vol. 1 No. 4, Dec. 6, 1913) described the American color scheme: “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.” Loyalty, purity, and life. View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner

Suffrage Banner

Source: Used by the Saint Paul Political Equality Club Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1918

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1918

Used by the St. Paul Political Equality Club | Source: Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner

Suffrage Banner

Source: Ca. 1918 Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1920

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1920

Source: Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1920

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1920

Source: Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1910s

Suffrage Banner, ca. 1910s

Used by the St. Paul Political Equality Club | Source: Minnesota Historical Society 3-D Collections View File Details Page

Street Address:

New Garrick Theater, 40 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis [map]

Cite this Page:

Jacqueline deVries and Grant Berg, “Arts and the Suffrage Movement,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed October 31, 2020, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/69.
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