Birmingham Museum to feature National Archives display in women’s history pop-up outdoor exhibit in September
BIRMINGHAM, MI, August 24, 2020--During the month of September, the public is invited to view materials from the Birmingham Museum’s collection that tell the story of some pretty amazing local women and how their experiences relate to the national struggle for women’s voting rights. On Fridays from 1 to 4 p.m., visitors can stop by the plaza outside the museum at 556 West Maple to learn about the fascinating evolution of the suffrage movement through the Rightfully Hers pop-up exhibition, developed by the National Archives in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote. Museum staff will be on hand to talk about how local women have expressed their own struggle for independence and empowerment, sharing materials and artifacts from the Birmingham Museum’s currently inaccessible exhibition, Beyond Suffrage: Empowering Birmingham’s Women. The outdoor pop-up exhibit is free of charge.
Despite the obligatory closure of the Birmingham Museum to the public due to the pandemic, stories and photos from its 2020 exhibit have been made available virtually with video vignettes on Facebook, the museum’s YouTube channel, and its other social media formats. Museum staff are excited to take exhibit materials out to the public for the pop-ups in September, where visitors, pedestrians, and bicyclists can stop by to check out the combined National Archives and Birmingham Museum display. Masks and social distancing will be required for close examination of the artifacts and conversation with museum staff. “Birmingham was uniquely progressive in comparison with other communities nearby,” said Birmingham Museum Director Leslie Pielack. “But even so, the women of Birmingham had to work determinedly toward greater political and economic independence for decades before the 19th Amendment was finally passed.” They made inroads in some areas but found resistance in others. When national women’s suffrage was ultimately victorious in 1920, it was not the end of the struggle; in many ways it was just the beginning.
The National Archives’ Rightfully Hers co-curator Jennifer N. Johnson has described it this way: "The ratification of the 19th Amendment was a landmark moment in American history that dramatically changed the electorate, and although it enshrined in the U.S. Constitution fuller citizenship for women, many remained unable to vote.” How the women of Birmingham empowered themselves before and following suffrage is the theme of the Beyond Suffrage exhibit at the museum, which opened earlier this year just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down public access. In addition to the national story, the September pop-up will feature women who played significant political roles in the Birmingham community from the 1870s to the 1960s. “Efforts to expand women’s rights began seriously with our own powerhouse Martha Baldwin, who actively contributed to local and national suffrage as well as economically supporting the education of talented young women in town,” said Pielack. “She was joined by other like-minded citizens who followed in her footsteps to create a women’s legacy in Birmingham that is still strong.” These included local women Ruth Shain, Hope Ferguson, Mary Utter, Bess Levin, Jane Briggs Hart, and Twink Willett, whose collective achievements include founder of The Community House and local chapter of the American Association of University Women, first elected woman commissioner in Birmingham, social justice activist and political matriarch, first woman astronaut, first woman mayor in Michigan and more. “We want our pop-up visitors to get a sense of the long history of the fight for women’s rights and how it fits in with what is going on today,” added Pielack. “And we want them to gain a better understanding of just how much has been accomplished by the determined women of Birmingham.” The Rightfully Hers pop-up exhibit is provided to local museums and libraries as part of a nationwide initiative of the National Archives and Records Administration in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment. It is associated with the major Rightfully Hers exhibition of the National Archives, which explores the generations-long fight for universal woman suffrage.
The exhibition is presented in part by the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Unilever, Pivotal Ventures, Carl M. Freeman Foundation in honor of Virginia Allen Freeman, AARP, and Denise Gwyn Ferguson. More information on the National Archives and its Rightfully Hers exhibition can be found at
The Birmingham Museum is currently closed to the public, but providing content and educational materials online about Birmingham’s story. We also feature regular social media programs on Facebook () and Twitter (). Video content on our current exhibit, lectures on historic Birmingham, and educational video shorts for adults and children can be found on our YouTube channel at Want to know more about us? Check us out at www.bhamgov.org/museum .
City of Birmingham - A Walkable Community. Visit the city’s web site at www.bhamgov.org .
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