New “Beyond the Ballot” Exhibit Tells the Story of 32 St. Louis Women Who Broke Barriers
The opening of the Missouri History Museum’s new 6,000-square-foot special exhibit “Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage” was delayed due to the pandemic—and in the meantime, we’ve seen women rising up in the name of social justice across the country.
The exhibit is finally open, and St. Louisans of all genders have an opportunity to explore how diverse, influential women broke barriers and fought for a voice from America’s colonial period through the women’s suffrage movement. That movement culminated in 1920 with the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.
“Beyond the Ballot” focuses on the stories of 32 women who lived between 1764 and 1918, using more than 80 artifacts and historic photographs plus illustrations by St. Louis artist Rori! that depict each of the women.
“The Missouri History Museum has chosen to mark the anniversary of suffrage by diving deeper into women’s history in St. Louis,” says Jody Sowell, managing director of strategic initiatives for the Missouri Historical Society. “That’s one reason why the exhibit is titled ‘Beyond the Ballot’—because it looks beyond the fight for suffrage at both earlier battles and issues that women are currently facing today. ‘Beyond the Ballot’ is about more than suffrage.”
News clippings about the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.
Katie Moon, exhibits manager for the Missouri Historical Society and content lead for the exhibit, says, “St. Louis has a long history of women making contributions that left a lasting impact both on the local community and on the national suffrage movement. The women featured in ‘Beyond the Ballot’ led vastly different lives and faced different obstacles, but they all challenged the status quo and made St. Louis a better place to live.”
Notable artifacts in the exhibit include the pharmaceutical kit of Dr. Josie Johnson Hitchcock, who was one of the first women doctors to practice in St. Louis, a “Votes for Women” sash worn during the Golden Lane Parade, a homemade sanitary belt from the 1870s and a variety of women’s clothing and textiles.
Artifacts and a description of the 1916 Golden Lane Parade.
One of the stories highlights Priscilla Henry, who was born into slavery on an Alabama plantation. Henry eventually ran one of St. Louis’s most successful businesses of the late 1800s: a brothel. Although she couldn’t read or write, she earned a fortune estimated at $100,000 or $2 million today. At one point she purchased the Alabama plantation where she was born.
In addition to the “Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage” special exhibit, the Missouri History Museum is hosting a variety of virtual programs throughout the month of August as part of the organization’s “Women Make History Month” series commemorating the centennial.
These include “The Bridge: Women, Art and Power,” a panel discussion with St. Louis female artists on Thursday, Aug. 6; “African American Women and the Vote: What Came Next?” on Thursday, Aug. 13; and “What Are We Fighting For: From Suffrage to the Women’s March” on Thursday, Aug. 20. There are also See STL walking tours of neighborhoods like the Central West End, Forest Park and Downtown.
Finally, for women whose goal for shaping St. Louis’ next 100 years includes running for public office, the Missouri History Museum hosts “Represent” as part of its STL History Live series. The authors of the humorous-yet-helpful how-to book “Represent: The Women’s Guide to Running for Office and Changing the World,” along with Ferguson’s Mayor Ella Jones, offer insight into the lived experience of running for office. This free online event is Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 6:30 p.m.
Admission to the Missouri History Museum and this special exhibit is free, but advance reservations are required. “Beyond the Ballot” runs until March 1, 2022.
Images courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.