Petaluma museum marks centennial of women’s suffrage
With Senator Kamala Harris of California set to run for vice president of the United States — the third woman in our history do so — it’s a good moment to remember that women haven’t always been free to run for office, or even vote.
Women gained voting rights a century ago, but in Petaluma the struggle to win the vote started long before that, said Paula Freund, curator of the new online exhibit “Petaluma’s Participation in the Women’s Suffrage Movement,” presented by the Petaluma Historical Library and Museum.
“We have a copy of the first handwritten petition for suffrage from Petaluma from 1878, with 278 signatures,” she said.
The national suffrage movement can be traced back to 1848 when a group of abolitionist activists, invited by reformers Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, to discuss the problem of limitations on women's rights.
“In California, the abolition movement was not strong,” Freund said. “What motivated suffrage in California was the spiritualism movement and its leaders in San Francisco.”
The Petaluma exhibit follows both national and local attempts to secure women’s right to vote, including an unsuccessful campaign to amend the California state constitution in 1896, started in San Francisco by the visiting national suffrage pioneer Susan B. Anthony.
The exhibition tells the history of Petaluma’s leading suffragists through detailed biographies written by Petaluma historian John Sheehy. Artifacts loaned by Ann Nisson, a suffragist descendant, illustrate the story.
The exhibit will feature prominent national suffrage leaders who spoke in Petaluma between 1870 and 1911, as well as local women leaders such as Abigail Goodwin Haskell (1819-1884), founding member of the Sonoma County Woman Suffrage Association and founding president of the California Woman Suffrage Association, and Freeman Parker (1822-1914), who orchestrated the 1878 Petaluma suffrage petition.
The show boasts some 120 photos, documents and artifacts, Freund said.
In connection with the exhibit, which starts Tuesday with Freund’s virtual gallery tour, the museum is planning a series of online events, also starting next week and running until late October. The museum itself is currently closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a reopening date has not been determined yet.
After a long, laborious battle in Congress and state legislatures, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, granting women the right to vote nationwide. It was signed into law on Aug. 26, now known at Women’s Equality Day.
The Petaluma Historical Museum and Library will celebrate the signing Wednesday with an online event available free on Facebook and YouTube, with Congressman Jared Huffman and Petaluma Mayor Teresa Barrett.
The program will honor the late Helen Putnam, who was the first woman mayor of Petaluma and later served on the board of supervisors, and Lynn Woolsey, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives as congresswoman from California's 6th District from 1993 to 2013.
One of liveliest programs on the museum’s fall schedule is “The Insufferable Mr. Sanford” on Oct. 17, with Sonoma County historian Jeff Elliot giving a live portrayal of powerful Californian politician J. B. Sanford, who led the fight against women’s suffrage in 1911.
For more information about the suffrage exhibit and how to access its online events, visit petalumamuseum.com.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @danarts.
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