Interpreting the Legacy of Women's Suffrage is an essential and encouraging read not only for public historians, but for all historians and educators as well as all who are interested in learning women's history. While not dismissing or denying the racism in the suffrage movement, Harrington presents an outstanding context to examine this important history. The case studies used help demonstrate how unconscious assumptions and unconscious racism often define and determine the very questions asked. The author uses concrete examples to lay the important groundwork and offers a guide to challenge and change long-held methodology. The citations and references are a treasure trove for anyone interested in telling a multidimensional and multicultural American history.— Molly Murphy MacGregor, executive director, and cofounder National Women's History Alliance
Harrington’s Interpreting the Legacy of Women’s Suffrageat Museums and Historic Sites offers a much-needed guide for museums and public historians to include the reality of racism in the suffrage story. But it’s much more than that. Readers will not only discover a concise, inclusive and readable history of the suffrage movement, but will also be challenged to see exclusion and racism in many of the other historical narratives surrounding all of us.— Nancy Tate and Krysta Jones, Women’s Vote Centennial Initiative CoChairs
Harrington’s Interpreting the Legacy of Women’s Suffrage provides key strategies for how public historians can access the dynamic new scholarship about diverse voting activists and reveal these histories to their audiences. More than a how-to manual, Harrington’s analysis is grounded in her decades of public history experience that allows for an honest assessment of how the white, middle-class perspective has influenced the delivery of information and the necessity of collaborative engagements to acknowledge the full force of complex and divergent issues within women’s suffrage. It is the book we’ve long needed and is certain to make a difference for public historians who use it to reassess their interpretation.— Kyle E. Ciani, PhD., professor of history and Core Faculty of Women’s, Genders, and Sexualities Studies at Illinois State University, author of Choosing To Care: A Century of Childcare and Social Reform in San Diego, 1850-1950
Written by a leading public historian, Harrington’s book is a fascinating account of how the history of the woman suffrage movement has been remembered, interpreted, and commemorated, and of the challenges faced by decision-makers at museums and historic sites eager to present that history more accurately and inclusively. Featuring several case studies by archivists and museum professionals who have grappled with these challenges, it offers practical advice on such issues as how to present suffragists often lauded as icons as complex historical figures with feet of clay. The book offers sage advice to groups eager to address racial bias and systematic racism within their own histories, and to help museum visitors understand the roles of racism as well as sexism in the long struggle for equal voting rights that continues to this day.— Marjorie J. Spruill, author of One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement, Second Edition, and Divided We Stand: The Battle Over Women's Rights and Family Values That Polarized American Politics
Make no mistake. Dealing with racism in U.S. history is no easy task, especially when we combine it with women’s history. Harrington offers a compelling argument for doing just that. 'Instead of pushing aside these difficult issues, we should push through them,' she argues. And she offers practical advice based on four case studies and her own years of experience. This is not about finding 'good' or 'bad' historical actors. It is about understanding the impact of systemic racism on all of us. Harrington’s voice of compassion and common sense offers a pathway to action. If you care about telling stories of U.S. history that respect the past and inform the future, this book is for you. Read it! — Judith Wellman, PhD., director, Historical New York Research Associates, professor emerita, SUNY Oswego
In my past experience, from 1998-2002, as the director of a museum of women’s history, I was continually struck by how little was known, and acknowledged in public narratives, about this history. All too often, women’s history was simply invisible. Many scholars were working hard to address these lacunae, but few museums brought these stories to public light. The lack of diversity among museum staffs and boards further exacerbated the problem, skewing the women’s history that was presented. All too often, we weren’t looking for, let alone exhibiting, accounts and documentation of the roles that women of color, including Black women, played in American History.
Interpreting the Legacy of Women’s Suffrage at Museums and Historic Sites, by Page Harrington, former director of the Sewell-Belmont House & Museum [now the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument], argues that museums must recognize and correct the limited and incomplete histories of the women’s suffrage movement that all too many continue to promote. The volume, therefore, moves us further down the path of accurately interpreting the enfranchisement movement, and, as such, serves as a valuable resource for all types of museums.
Harrington clearly and compellingly makes the case for museums to rethink, refresh, and re-interpret women’s suffrage in all of its nuance, complexity, and in light of the traditional “great White women” approach that omits, often glaringly, issues of systemic racism that plagued the movement, the role of Black suffragists, and the crusade’s full and expansive chronology, from the late 18th century to the present.
She offers candid case studies, practical examples of effective research methodologies that go beyond the often-limited holdings of standard repositories, suggestions for community dialogues that can enable a museum to engage its publics with its revised narratives, and a comprehensive women’s enfranchisement timeline.
The book contains multiple practical and doable strategies and processes that can aid all museums, large and small, in furthering their goals of inclusion, equity, and historical accuracy. It provides material, methods, and incentives for the substantial reframing of the women’s suffrage story. How timely, as we approach the centennial of the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment and the semiquincentennial of the Declaration of Independence, and how essential, if museums are to continue to be considered authentic and trusted truth-tellers, especially about the triumphs and tragedies of American democracy. — Marsha L. Semmel, independent consultant, author of Partnership Power: Essential Museum Strategies for Today's Networked World
History is fascinating and messy. Women are heroic and flawed. In Page Harrington's call to re-examine interpretations of the suffrage movement, she makes the case that museums and historic sites must do the difficult and often painful work of acknowledging the racism that influenced some of their most exalted heroines. To remain relevant, staffs and boards must be open to more inclusive and accurate narratives that confront the bias embedded in suffragist stories. Harrington insists that she and other history practitioners have a responsibility to foster such initiatives and collaborate with communities whose views have been excluded.— A'Lelia Bundles, author, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker