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Driving the Disenfranchised

The Automobile's Role in Women's Suffrage

Driving the Disenfranchised—The Automobile's Role in Women's Suffrage

An important anniversary in the struggle for women’s rights is being celebrated this summer at the Car and Carriage Museum with our new exhibition Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile’s Role in Women’s Suffrage
One-hundred-seventy years have passed since July 1848, when 300 women and men gathered in Seneca Falls, New York to fight for the social, civil and religious rights of women—the first Women’s Rights Convention in the United States. It took more than 70 years of activism, but finally in June 1919 the 19th amendment was passed, granting citizens the right to vote regardless of sex. The amendment was ratified in August 1920. Driving the Disenfranchised examines the role automobiles played in furthering the cause of women’s suffrage in the United States, particularly during the Progressive Era (1890–1920).  

Those who attended the Seneca Falls Convention vowed to work toward a society where women’s voices would resonate loudly and their rights would be equal to men’s. The Declaration of Sentiments—modeled after the Declaration of Independence—outlined the convention’s principles, among which were access to education, property rights, and the right to vote; the resolution marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America. 
Program Information

Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile's Role in Women's Suffrage

Dates: July 7, 2018 - October 21, 2018
Location: The Car and Carriage Museum
Free Admission
The automobile became a central part of the suffragist enterprise. Serving as a stage it became the focal point of speeches and a platform for the cause. Capitalizing on the automobile as an iconic object, in 1916, Nell Richardson and Alice Burke left New York in their Golden Flier— a suffrage yellow Saxon automobile outfitted with flowers and “Votes for Women” banners— for San Francisco in an effort to drum up support for suffragist delegates attending the national political conventions in Chicago and St. Louis. Female drivers were seen as a novelty, they provided an element of sensationalism in stories about women capable of handling heavy gas-powered autos. 

The automobile’s central role provided a mechanism for women’s identity— a means to free themselves from social and geographical limitations and also to transcend prevailing gender stereotypes about their inherent mechanical naiveté an ineptitude. Female drivers challenged the notion that women ought to remain sequestered in the home. By the 1920s automobiles were a dominant cultural emblem of women’s modernity, independence and mobility. 

The exhibition will feature a 1914 Saxon Roadster, similar to the vehicle used by Burke and Richardson on their transcontinental trip, as well as other vehicles and period fashions. Driving the Disenfranchised will highlight this fascinating period of automobile history when the independence and mobility introduced by the automobile had widespread impact on increasing individual autonomy and heralding vast social changes in the 20th century.

Organized by The Frick Pittsburgh. 
Driving the Disenfranchised is made possible by the Eden Hall Foundation.
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