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Millions of American women were granted the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which marked 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 2020-21 exhibition When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776 – 1807, the Museum of the American Revolution explored the little-known history of the nation’s first women voters and examined 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's inspiring story explored how the American Revolution shaped women’s political opportunities and activism, and it encouraged visitors to reconsider their understanding of the timeline of women’s history in America. It was also a cautionary tale about one of America’s first voting rights crises.

Image 092120 Wwltv Remember Ladies Letter Exhibit Img 6221
Abigail Adams’ original March 31, 1776 letter to her husband John Adams, in which she urged him to “Remember the Ladies,” was on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society for the exhibit.

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

Also featured in the exhibition were 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. At the time of the exhibit's run, the team had 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.

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

Special Events & Programs

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

  • Two original first-person theatrical performances that dramatized the different experiences and perspectives of two women of the period. Actresses dramatized the stories of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, an enslaved woman in Massachusetts who sued for her own freedom and won, and Rebecca VanDike, who, along with her daughters, cast her vote in New Jersey.
  • For schools, the Museum provided educator-led virtual explorations of the story, focusing on the role of women in the American Revolution and on the history of suffrage.
  • For families, the Museum offered a range of activities and resources for further exploration of this Revolutionary story at the Museum and at home. An activity-packed family guide was available for use on mobile devices or to print from home.
Watch Performances Exhibit Family Guide

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: Democracy demands wisdom

When Women Lost the Vote Exhibit Sponsorship Lockup

Virtual Exhibit: When Women Lost the Vote Explore the Museum's When Women Lost the Vote: A Revolutionary Story, 1776-1807 virtual exhibit to learn the little-known history of the nation’s first women voters.

Explore Now

In The News The Museum's discovery of several poll lists featuring the names of women voters from the period, including a list from the New Jersey State Archives that features the names of 46 women voters, was featured in the New York Times.

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Remember the Ladies Choral Premiere

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In March 2021, composer Melissa Dunphy joined the Museum for the choral world premiere of “Remember the Ladies,” featuring Abigail Adams's famous letter set for an a cappella chorus, performed by PhilHarmonia.
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