When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776 – 1807

Howard Pyle 1880 Engraving (credit: Ann Lewis)

Oct. 2, 2020 – April 25, 2021
Included with regular Museum admission

Millions of American women were granted the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which marks its centennial in 2020. But more than a century earlier, women and free people of color legally held the vote in New Jersey for more than thirty years.

In the groundbreaking new exhibition When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776 – 1807, the Museum of the American Revolution will explore – as no book, exhibit, or other medium has before – the little-known history of the nation’s first women voters and examine the political conflicts that led to their voting rights being stripped away.

Although New Jersey ultimately restricted the vote to propertied white men in 1807, women’s fight for equality did not end there. Rather, that earlier Revolutionary fight became a rallying cry as another generation of women took up the mantle of the suffrage movement decades later.

When Women Lost the Vote is an inspiring story that will explore how the American Revolution shaped women’s political opportunities and activism and will encourage visitors to reconsider their understanding of the timeline of women’s history in America. It is also a cautionary tale about one of America’s first voting rights crises.

Newly Discovered Poll Lists

Several poll lists featuring the names of women voters from the period will be on display, including a list from the New Jersey State Archives that features the names of 46 women voters

Featuring original objects including textiles, manuscripts, and works of art, the exhibition will bring to life the forgotten stories of the women who first pioneered the vote. 

Also featured in the exhibition will be several recently discovered poll lists including the names of women voters, tracked down by the Museum’s curatorial team during an extensive examination of voter records. To date, the team has located nine poll lists featuring the names of 163 women at local institutions and state archives. Prior to this, little proof of women voting during this period was known to exist.

Must-See Artifacts

Newly Discovered Poll Lists

Several poll lists featuring the names of women voters from the period

Deborah Sampson's Wedding Dress

The wedding dress worn by Deborah Sampson

Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times

A hand-colored version of an 1880 engraving in Harper’s Weekly

Abner Weston's Journal

A journal by Abner Weston that revealed new details about Deborah Sampson

Key Artifacts

  • Abner Weston's Journal: A hand-written diary of Massachusetts Revolutionary War corporal Abner Weston (1760-1830), which revealed previously unknown details about Deborah Sampson
  • Deborah Sampson's Wedding Dress: The wedding gown (1760-1790) of now-famous female soldier Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War, on loan from Historic New England
  • Women at the Polls in New Jersey in the Good Old Times: A hand-colored version of an 1880 engraving in Harper’s Weekly drawn by Howard Pyle
  • Newly Discovered Poll Lists: Several poll lists featuring the names of women voters from the period will be on display, including a list from the New Jersey State Archives that features the names of 46 women voters
  • "Remember the Ladies" Letter: Abigail Adams’ original March 31, 1776 letter to her husband John Adams, in which she urged him to “Remember the Ladies,” on loan to the Museum from the Massachusetts Historical Society, marking what is believed to be its first return to Philadelphia since John Adams originally received it in 1776
  • Ballot Box circa 1811: A ballot box from Deptford Township, New Jersey, on loan from the Gloucester County Historical Society

“We are reconstructing the long-forgotten stories of America's first women voters, and will explore how the next generation of suffragists stood on the shoulders of the women who first pioneered the vote.”

Dr. Marcela Micucci, Curatorial Fellow in Women's History for the Museum

Abner Weston's Journal

A hand-written diary of Massachusetts Revolutionary War corporal Abner Weston, which revealed previously unknown details about Deborah Sampson

Special Events & Programs

The exhibition and virtual experience will be supplemented with special programming for all ages, whether onsite or online, to bring to life the stories of America’s first women voters and explore other central themes.

  • A program highlight will be two original first-person theatrical performances that dramatize the different experiences and perspectives of two women of the period. Whether live or on film, actors will dramatize the stories of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an enslaved woman in Massachusetts who sued for her own freedom and won, and Rebecca Van Dyke, who, along with her daughters, cast her vote in New Jersey.
  • For schools, the Museum will provide educator-led virtual explorations of the story, focusing on the role of women in the American Revolution and on the history of suffrage.
  • For teachers, a new Educator Resource Guide will include curriculum-linked content and activities inspired by the original research behind the exhibit. The Resource Guide will be available in print and to download from home. An Educator Professional Development Workshop, "Women’s Suffrage in the Revolutionary Era: A Lens on the Past and Present," will be offered virtually or onsite.
  • For families, the Museum will offer a range of activities and resources for further exploration of this Revolutionary story at the Museum and at home. An activity-packed family guide will be available for use on mobile devices or to print from home.

“...remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands.”

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 1776

Bank of America and Comcast NBCUniversal are presenting sponsors of When Women Lost the Vote. Other support was provided by The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. The exhibition was also made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities:  Exploring the human endeavor.