2020 has been a challenging and extraordinary year. We are facing a tumultuous election period in a very divided world. Our daily lives have been upended by the realities of a pandemic that has altered the very core of how we experience and navigate the world. We have struggled with the legacies of racial violence and its continued impact on our world today. So much of what I had planned for the Gallery this summer, fall, and winter has had to pivot in many different ways. This exhibit was meant to open this exhibit physically this past summer, however, for the safety of our College students and our visitors, we remain closed at this time. As the fall semester has progressed, it became clear that the best course of action was to shift to a virtual platform. I felt very strongly that the exhibit needed to go on, even if the way it is experienced is different. I choose to release “Remember the Ladies” on election day to both pay homage to our ancestors who worked so hard to enfranchise us and to highlight the long way we need to go to ensure that voting and full equality becomes an indisputable right of citizenship.
Why coverlets? It’s true that coverlets themselves are not normally thought of as pieces of material culture related to voting and political discussion. They adorned beds, were gifted at significant life events, decorated home spaces, and were very much a part of general domestic life. For this exhibit, I have selected coverlets from significant times and locations in the history of the women’s movement. For me, they represent the marriage between the realities of women’s daily lives and the hope for representation in arenas of political decision making. For many women, regardless of ethnicity or class, politics were a way to lobby for greater resources for homes, families, and communities. They were a way to represent the interests of housewives along with businessmen.
Politics were a route to economic autonomy and an independent legal existence outside of one’s spouse. A coverlet was a rather mundane, everyday household object. But it was here at home where women began to talk about access to voting rights and equality. Political thoughts ran through people’s minds as they lay in bed at night. Conversations about the need for equality were had around kitchen tables. Plans for protest and resistance ignited within the four walls of the home. In our most intimate space, our home, we spark ideas. We pray for a better tomorrow. We take action that we hope can alter the world.
I do not know the women who owned these coverlets or their politics, but I imagine that they had many conversations about their lives and what they believed was important to them while in their homes. These objects remind us that our political ideas and thoughts are worked out in the home between family and friends. Our material culture witnesses those exchanges and bears witness to our political action forged in the home.