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.


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New Garrick Theater, 40 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis