Objects in Time: The Massachusetts Women's Suffrage Movement Bluebird



2018-01-09 14:44:38

This tin blue bird sign is one of the most iconic artifacts from the American Women's Suffrage Movement of the early 20th century.

It was produced by the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association (MWSA) during their 1915 campaign to change state laws preventing women from voting in elections.

On July 19, 1915, a date dubbed 'Suffrage Blue Bird Day', approximately 100,000 die-cut tin signs appeared throughout the state, nailed to fences, barns and telephone poles.

Measuring 12" tall, these striking and colourful signs became an instantly recognisable symbol of the movement.

Today these historic signs are regarded as "one of the essential centerpieces for most major suffrage collections", and this example is set to cross the block at Heritage Auctions on February 24 as part of the renowned David and Janice Frent Collection.

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

(Image: Heritage Auctions)

The signs feature the names of two women who played important roles within the Massachusetts Suffrage Movement: Gertrude H. Leonard and Teresa A. Crowley.

Leonard was chairman of the MWSA State Board of Directors, often serving as de facto acting president during her 12 years with the organization, and later volunteered with the Red Cross in France during WWI.

Crowley served as chairman of the Legislative Committee of the Massachusetts Woman Suffrage Association. She is remembered as one of the association's finest public speakers, and a fierce opponent of anti-suffrage politicians.

'Suffrage Blue Bird Day' was followed on October 16 by a march in Boston, during which some 15,000 marchers and 30 bands descended on the state capital.

Sadly, suffragettes in Massachusetts were destined to taste bitter defeat before they eventually triumphed in their cause.

For decades they had fought against one of the country's oldest and most powerful anti-suffrage organizations: the Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women.

This group argued that allowing women to vote would lead to higher divorce rates, higher taxes, and a danger to national security through the creeping influence of both Socialism and Mormonism.

When male voters went to the polls on November 2, 1915, they overwhelmingly voted against allowing women the vote. The margin of victory was almost two-to-one, with 35.5% voting 'yes' and 64.5% voting 'no'.

This result mirrored those in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, where similar referendums also failed.

But by now the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) had two million members across the U.S, and these defeats merely strengthened their resolve.

Determined to be heard, they turned their attentions from state-level campaigns to a single national campaign aimed at Washington.

It would be another four years before the United States Congress passed the 19th Amendment, finally granting women across America the right to vote on June 4, 1919.

This simple tin bluebird remains a poignant reminder that, almost 100 years after that hard-won victory, the continuing struggle for female equality remains a fight worth fighting.

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