With Courage and Cloth

March 7, 2010

I really like the name of this book. In it, Ann Bausum tells the story of the women’s suffrage movement and their fight for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. That’s the courageous part. The “cloth” part refers to the material the women chose to make their banners which they carried in parades and in picket lines. These banners were one means of getting out the message; a common sense and effective way of giving a strong voice to the cause. 

The banners were made using a variety of needlework techniques; which I realize is not anywhere near the point of what these ladies accomplished. It is, however, what they were accustomed to. As Bausum explained in her introduction, “cloth was a fitting choice. It was a substance all women knew intimately, having woven, sewn, cleaned and mended it for generations. It was readily available and everyone knew how to use it.”

The Sewall-Belmont House and Museum in Washington, DC (http://www.sewallbelmont.org) houses a collection of these banners; pictures of which can be accessed from their digital archive. (However, the last time I checked the website the archives were unavailable.) This property was the headquarters for the National Woman’s Party and the home of its’ founder, Alice Paul; who, each time a state ratified the proposed 19th amendment to the US Constitution, would sew another star to the banner.

Another good place to see these banners is on the Visual Arts Data Service, a searchable database for the visual arts. It has a collection of over 200 photographs of banners carried during the British suffrage movement (http://www.vads.ahds.ac.uk/collections/FSB.html).

Since March is Women’s History Month, take a look at these important pieces of needlework and remember the courageous ladies who made and carried them.

NOTE: The photograph of Alice Paul stitching a banner is courtesy of The Daughters of the American Revolution.


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