As America approaches the centennial of the ratification of the 19th amendment, granting women the right to vote, Alex Cooper is pleased to offer a local collection of rare American and Maryland suffrage movement banners. These handmade banners were carried during parades and conventions advocating for women’s right to vote. They display their message in thoughtful construction and materials, ultimately replaced by paper and poster board signs we are familiar with today. The banners are in original condition and though faded from time they offer an insight to history and a first-hand glimpse into the lives of the women who carried them.
They form part of the collection descended through the family of Daniel (1802-1887) and Mary (1806-1877) Cowgill, Quakers and prominent Delaware abolitionists. The Cowgills worked with Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Their former home, Woodburn, is today the Delaware Governor’s mansion. The banners were owned by their descendant, Anna Cowgill Evans. Her family’s strong Quaker roots encouraged her continued involvement in women’s rights throughout her lifetime, until her death at 95.
In addition to the suffrage movement banners, is some of her personal wardrobe including wedding ensemble, swim costume and dresses. The first thing many people will notice about the dresses, including lots 1381, 1385 and 1386, is how small the waists are. Our natural response is to remark that people were smaller in size and while that is true, these dresses were worn with corsets and undergarments that unnaturally constricted and manipulated a woman’s shape to fit the current fashion trend. The remarkable irony is that the women who carried these banners, advancing the idea of women’s rights and their legal right to vote, were themselves confined in their own clothes.
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