February 24, 2020

Museum of the American Revolution Announces New Special Exhibit When Women Lost the Vote, August 2020 – March 2021

Exhibit Explores the Little-Known Stories of Women Who Legally Voted in New Jersey from 1776 – 1807

Coincides with 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment

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.  

Dr. Philip Mead and Dr. Marcela Micucci looking at the 1801 Montgomery Township Poll list from the New Jersey State Archives.
Dr. Philip Mead and Dr. Marcela Micucci looking at the 1801 Montgomery Township Poll list from the New Jersey State Archives.

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 how and why this right was stripped away in 1807. The exhibition will run from August 22, 2020 – March 28, 2021 and will be included with regular Museum admission.

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. Though a property requirement for voters excluded the enslaved and some free men and women, neither race nor gender in itself legally precluded voting in New Jersey.

It also will feature original objects including textiles, manuscripts, furniture, and art, as well as interactive elements and scenic environments.

“While the rest of the country is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the Museum is also celebrating more than 200 years since women first voted in the United States,” said Dr. Marcela Micucci, Curatorial Fellow in Women’s History for the Museum. “In this exhibition, 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.”

Although New Jersey ultimately restricted the vote to only 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.

1801 Montgomery Township Poll list from the New Jersey State Archives
1801 Montgomery Township Poll list from the New Jersey State Archives
The exhibition will explore issues related to race and suffrage, as the loss of the vote for women and people of color were inextricably tied. It will examine the promise of the American Revolution for women and people of color, the betrayal of that promise in 1807 when both groups were disenfranchised, and the renewed fight for equality that took place in the reform movements leading up to the Civil War. It took more than 100 years for voting rights for both groups to be restored nationally.

“The Museum of the American Revolution is committed to presenting the past accurately and in a way that helps us better understand the present,” said Dr. Philip Mead, Chief Historian and Director of Curatorial Affairs for the Museum. “New Jersey faced many of the issues Americans struggle with today, including accusations of voter fraud in a highly partisan political climate. This exhibition will encourage visitors to consider that societal progress is not always linear, and that rights and liberties require constant vigilance to preserve and protect.”

The 5,000 square-foot exhibition, developed by the Museum of the American Revolution’s in-house exhibit team, will be located in the Museum’s first-floor Patriots Gallery, the exhibition’s exclusive venue.

Bank of America and Comcast NBCUniversal are co-presenting sponsors of the exhibition. The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development is a supporting sponsor. A planning grant from the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was essential to supporting the early stages of the exhibition.

Key Artifacts on Display:

  • 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.
  • A ballot box (1811) from Deptford Township, NJ, which is on loan from the Gloucester County Historical Society.
  • Perhaps the most famous statement in defense of women’s rights of the Revolutionary era, Abigail Adams’ March 31, 1776 letter to her husband John Adams, in which she urged him to “Remember the Ladies.” The original letter, which will be on loan to the Museum from the Massachusetts Historical Society, will be on display for the run of the exhibition, marking what is believed to be its first return to Philadelphia since John Adams originally received it in 1776.
  • The wedding gown (1760-1790) of now-famous female soldier Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War. It is on loan from Historic New England. 
  • A hand-written diary of Massachusetts Revolutionary War corporal Abner Weston (1760-1830), which revealed previously unknown details about the Deborah Sampson. The gown and journal demonstrate how women's patriotic committment during the Revolutionary War became the basis of women arguing for their political rights. 

Special Event and Programs Highlights:

  • The exhibition will come to life with a rich slate of special events and daily programs, including family-friendly programs and activities, a series of guided tours and workshops for adult-learners, as well as evening speaker programs and events exploring the historic and contemporary relevance of the exhibition. 
  • Another highlight will be first-person theatrical performances that dramatize the experiences and perspectives of women of the period. 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, voted in at least one election (1801).
  • For schools, the Museum will provide educator-led tours of the exhibition, focusing on the role of women in the American Revolution and on the history of suffrage, as well as outreach programs inspired by the first-person theatrical performances.
  • For teachers, the Museum will create new Teacher Professional Development programs and a new Educator Resource Guide will include curriculum-linked content and activities inspired by the original research behind the exhibit. The Resource will be available in print and to download.

IF YOU GO

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

WHERE:       Museum of the American Revolution, Patriots Gallery, 101 S. Third St. Philadelphia, PA 19106

WHEN:          Saturday, August 22, 2020 – Sunday, March 28, 2021, daily from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

HOW:            The exhibition will be included with regular Museum admission. Tickets can be purchased at www.amrevmuseum.org, by calling 215.253.6731, or at the front desk. Museum tickets are $21 for adults; $18 for seniors, students, and active or retired military; and $13 for children ages 6 and up. Children ages 5 and under are free. All tickets are valid for two consecutive days. Group tickets for parties of 15 or more are available for a reduced price by calling 267.858.3308. Memberships are also available online or by calling 215.454.2030.

About Museum of the American Revolution
The Museum of the American Revolution uncovers and shares compelling stories about the diverse people and complex events that sparked America’s ongoing experiment in liberty, equality, and self-government. Through the Museum’s unmatched collection, immersive galleries, powerful theater experiences, and interactive elements, visitors gain a deeper appreciation for how this nation came to be and feel inspired to consider their role in ensuring that the promise of the American Revolution endures. Located just steps away from Independence Hall, the Museum serves as a portal to the region’s many Revolutionary sites, sparking interest, providing context, and encouraging exploration. The Museum, which opened on April 19, 2017, is a private, non-profit, and non-partisan organization. For more information, visit www.AmRevMuseum.org or call 877.740.1776.