A county museum exhibit saluting 100 years of women’s suffrage coincides with a presidential race that’s bent on courting the female vote.
“Votes for Women! The Oregon Story” has a handful of informational panels and a wooden ballot box placed inside a museum hallway. The display opened Saturday at the Douglas County Museum of History and Natural History and will hang through 2013.
The exhibit was created by Century of Action, a branch of the Oregon Women’s History Consortium. Eden Bainter, program coordinator for the Portland-based Century of Action, said a similar set of materials was created for 17 museums around Oregon. The exhibit is part of a statewide centennial celebration about women’s suffrage in Oregon.
The exhibit spans more than 40 years, starting in 1870 when suffragist groups were being organized in the state. Their efforts met with strong opposition. Measures proposing to extend the vote to women failed in five elections, and it wasn’t until 1912 that Oregon women were able to vote and hold public office. The federal government followed suit eight years later with the passage of the 19th amendment, extending suffrage to all American women.
The exhibit focuses on Oregonians such as Abigail Scott Duniway and Maria Hendee, who joined Susan B. Anthony and others on the national level battling for suffrage.
Former museum curator Jena Mitchell, who set up the county’s exhibit with research librarian Karen Bratton, said 100 years may seem like the distant past to younger generations, but it wasn’t that long ago when women were not considered equal.
“Up until then, a married woman’s legal existence was incorporated into her husband,” she said, “People should come and see this exhibit to see what women accomplished.”
Bratton said many of the items illustrate changes in women’s lives after the law went into effect. It didn’t take long for women to become councilors, mayors and senators.
The exhibit demonstrates how multiple figures from Douglas County emerged in the political arena.
One example is Kathryn Clarke, a Glendale resident who, in 1915, became the first woman elected state senator. Clarke defeated two male opponents in a close race, winning by 76 votes.
Also featured is a photo of the 1920 Yoncalla City Council. The five women pictured were the first female-only council. Mayor Mary Goodell Burt is seen with councilors Bernice Wilson, Jennifer Lasswell, Nettie Haran and Edith Thompson.
Museum Director Gardner Chappell said he remembers as a child being proud every time his mom voted. He said he’s pleased the museum has the chance to celebrate Oregon’s century of women’s suffrage.
“I think it’s one of the greatest things America ever did,” he said. “It’s great we’re providing an exhibit that covers that.”
•You can reach reporter Ryan Imondi at 541-957-4211 or by email at email@example.com.