The Westport Library’s new exhibit — “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders” — opened in early March.
A week later, the library shut down.
Along with so much else, COVID-19 has robbed residents of the chance to visit an inspired, inspiring tribute to an astonishing group of women who worked creatively and energetically for years. Finally a century ago, the passage of the 19th Amendment changed history.
Fortunately this is 2020 — not 1920. Thanks to the internet, anyone anywhere can see the Suffragists exhibit.
And everyone everywhere should.
Designed by the library’s Carole Erger-Fass, in partnership with town arts curator Kathleen Motes Bennewitz, the exhibit is broad and deep.
In text and photographs, it shows the women (in Westport and beyond) who pushed suffrage forward; the places in Westport where significant events took place, and the (long) timeline during which it all happened.
Who knew, for example, that the then-brand-new library at the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an important meeting place for early suffragists?
The exhibit notes:
On January 27, 1912, the public library’s handsome oak-paneled hall was transformed into a political theater bedecked with American flags and purple, white and green suffrage banners. The occasion was the Tri-County Crusade for Votes run by the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association (CWSA). From January through March, the campaign held rallies at every town with trolley service—46 in all—across Fairfield, New Haven and Hartford counties.
Among the artists — the first wave of progressive people to live in Westport — fighting for a woman’s right to vote was Rose O’Neill. Known today as the creator of the Kewpie character, she was also an illustrator dedicated to women’s empowerment. She even used her Kewpies to send a message: “Give Mother the Vote.”
Lillian Wald is revered for her work building awareness of, and helping solve, pressing social ills like child labor and racial injustice. She founded the Henry Street Settlement and Visiting Nurse Service of New York, aiding thousands of immigrants. She also worked tirelessly in support of world peace and women’s full franchise.
In 1917 Wald came to Westport as a summer resident. When she retired, she moved full-time to a house on the pond across from Longshore. There she entertained a steady stream of guests, including Eleanor Roosevelt.
O’Neill and Wald get their due in the library exhibit. But so does Sara Buek Crawford, a Westporter I’d never heard of. She was a leading suffragist — and, 20 years after the 19th Amendment was approved, she became the first woman in Connecticut ever elected to statewide office.
It’s all there — plus much more — in the Westport Library’s suffrage exhibit. Everyone — of every age, and both genders — should click on, and learn from it.