The Exhibit at Roosevelt House in Images
For its first special exhibition since re-opening six years ago, The Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College presented, beginning January 14 and ending on May 27, 2016, a loan show of original and important treasures from the Women’s Suffrage Movement, some unseen for a century. Featuring some 75 rare posters, broadsides, pamphlets, books, and manuscripts—many of them more than 100 years old—the show featured items that were actually used in the early 20th Century to promote voting rights for women.
Women Take the Lead: From Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Eleanor Roosevelt, Suffrage to Human Rights occupied the main floor of Roosevelt House from January 14 through May 27, a period embracing Women’s History Month in March, during which Roosevelt House also hosted several public programs related to the theme of women’s rights. Most of the pieces exhibited were on loan from the privately held Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History, built over 25 years by New York philanthropist Barbara Dobkin to chronicle women’s experiences and achievements in both political and domestic realms. The new exhibition was made possible by a grant from Elbrun and Peter Kimmelman. Mrs. Kimmelman is a Hunter College Foundation Trustee and a member of the Roosevelt House Board of Advisors.
A highlight of Women Take the Lead was the display of 22 exceptionally rare suffragette posters, all dating from the 1912 presidential election year, which had never been shown together publicly. The show also featured material relating to Eleanor Roosevelt, who, once women won the right to vote in 1920, joined the League of Women Voters and other political and labor groups, and immersed herself in Democratic politics in New York—using the house at 47-49 East 65th Street as her base of operations, especially once her husband began his recovery from polio here beginning in 1921.
Commented Jennifer J. Raab, President of Hunter College, at the opening: “This exhibit, inspired by the 95th anniversary of the 1920 constitutional amendment that at last gave American women the right to vote, is an ideal installation for our school. It was to this onetime women’s college that President and Mrs. Roosevelt transferred their home in 1942 so it could become a center promoting harmony and understanding among students of all backgrounds and faiths. Hunter in turn rebuilt Roosevelt House and rededicated it in 2010 to the goal of educating and enlightening students and the general public in the fields of public policy and human rights.
“The evocative materials that will now go on display here,” President Raab continued, “testify powerfully to a long and difficult struggle that we must never take for granted: the campaign that gave women the right to an equal voice in our democracy. It is a challenge that still remains unfulfilled in many other parts of the world, and a subject that our students and scholars continue to explore in their study and research. I hope this exhibit will provide further inspiration for this important work.”
Among the other highlights of the exhibition were: an early printed copy of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s “Declaration of Sentiments” at the 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention; a letter written by New York State-born Belva Lockwood, one of the first women to practice law in this country and a candidate for President of the United States on the National Equal Rights Party ticket in 1884 and 1888; the prison records of Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Sylvia, the leaders of the British suffrage movement; an original manuscript on family planning by Margaret Sanger; the hand-edited typescript of novelist Pearl S. Buck’s 1938 Nobel Prize acceptance speech (she was the first American woman to win the honor); material related to women’s rights pioneers Susan B. Anthony, and Amelia Earhart; and letters written by Mrs. Roosevelt to her family and notable figures of her time which trace her evolution as a leader in the struggle for human rights while First Lady of New York, the United States, and the World.
Stated Harold Holzer, the recently named Jonathan F. Fanton Director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute: “President Raab asked me from the outset to expand whenever possible our engagement with students, faculty, and the general public on issues of both immediate and historic concern. In a year in which two women are seeking the presidency of the United States, and women around the world are raising questions related to opportunity and empowerment, this is the perfect time and place to take renewed inspiration from the Suffrage Movement, still barely a century old. We are grateful to President Raab, Elbrun Kimmelman, the Dobkin Family, and the superb Roosevelt House staff for making this exhibition happen.” Holzer, who assumed the directorship in August, is an award-winning historian and National Humanities Medal laureate.
At Roosevelt House, Women Take the Lead was curated by staff historian Deborah Gardner, and was designed by Dylan Gauthier. It was installed with the assistance of Gregory Nolan and the staff of Roosevelt House and the Hunter College Library Special Collections and Archives. Many of the items in the exhibition were on view in the fall of 2015 under the title No Gate, No Lock, No Bolt, shown at the Glenn Horowitz Gallery, where it was curated by Sarah Funke Butler. Roosevelt House is grateful to Ms. Butler for her advice and help, and for locating additional items for display here.
The exhibit was open free to the public from Monday through Saturday, 10 AM-4 PM, and during all evening public programs hosted by Roosevelt House from January through May, 2016. Free guided tours of the house and exhibition were made available to visitors on Saturdays by reservation: http://www.roosevelthouse.hunter.cuny.edu/tours/.
Eleanor and her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, occupied Roosevelt House—a gift from FDR’s mother Sara Delano Roosevelt that became their New York City family home—from 1905 through 1941. The building became a part of Hunter College in 1942, originally serving as a headquarters for cultural and social clubs, events, speeches, and faculty conferences. After a major renovation, it re-opened in 2010 the college’s public policy institute.