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White River Valley Museum's New Exhibit on Women's Suffrage: #SquadGoals

Virtual exhibit explores aspects of history in a very modern way

Published on: August 04, 2020

suffragette postcard
Photo:
Credit: White River Valley Museum

A new virtual exhibit presented by the White River Valley Museum explores an important historical movement using a thoroughly modern medium. Called #SquadGoals, the all-digital exhibit celebrates the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States.

The exhibit is called #SquadGoals, because — as the exhibit details — the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S. constitution took the efforts of a whole squad of people. The movement combined the efforts of multiple Progressive Era groups.

Exhibit “visitors” can access the digital content on the museum's website, on Pinterest or Instagram. Experience short blog posts, pictures of museum artifacts, newspaper articles, postcards and even memes to understand all of the strange political bedfellows involved in the push for (and resistance to) the vote for women. Find out the role played by seemingly disparate elements such as women's undergarments, alcohol, the KKK, birth control and bicycles, among others.

While the content is recommended for ages 13 and older, families with younger kids may also find this exhibit an illuminating social studies lesson presented in kid-sized pieces.

Creative pivot to digital

#SquadGoals was originally planned to be a physical exhibit at the White River Valley Museum, but then the pandemic hit and necessity became the mother of invention, said museum director Rachel McAlister.

“We really wanted to approach the subject in a fresh way and were already playing around with social media themes. With the pandemic, we were no longer able to have a physical exhibit, which led us to reimagine the content. One of our goals with the design and format of #SquadGoals was to show just how relevant history can be by framing it using modern devices likes hashtags and memes.”

“We consume so much content every day via 140 characters and clickbait and are constantly stringing together and forming opinions on complicated issues through posts on Facebook and Instagram — why not history, too?” she said.

Post from White River Valley Museum #SquadGoals exhibit joking meme resisting the vote for women
A cheeky meme from the #SquadGoals digital exhibit highlighting resistance to the vote for women. Courtesy WRVM

A modern take on history

As I experienced this exhibit, I found the modern take on history to be a breath of fresh air. The content of the exhibit consists of over 80 posts, divided into sections with different hashtags, such as #feminists, #straightedge, #whatiwore, #blackgirlmagic and #whiteprivilegesquad. The different hashtags dig into the various ideas and groups at play in U.S. women fully attaining the vote in 1920. The exploration of race and class feels particularly timely.

These topics, among others, are each displayed as an image with a clickable caption for reading more. The bite-sized bits of information are intriguing and easily digestible. The various sections highlight the different movements and trends that worked together between the 1850s and 1920 to get the 19th amendment passed.

Highlights

Some of the more interesting posts to me included how home décor and what women wore became an outward representation of their political beliefs (in #whatiwore and #domesticgoddess), how bicycles got a sexy, transgressive reputation (in #optoutside) and why the KKK donated to the prohibition movement, which was closely intertwined with the suffragist movement. This is explored in #whitepriviledgesquad.

woman in old times with meme expressing relief at removing corset
A post in the #SquadGoals exhibit exploring how women's dress related to women's suffrage. Courtesy WRVM

The belief that women could be equal in politics opened discussion into women being equal in other areas of life, including sex and marriage. Did you know that sending birth control information through the mail was a federal offense in 1917(#birthcontroljail), or that wife beating wasn’t illegal in all states until 1920 (#wifebeater)?

Progressive Era?

The Progressive Era was progressive, but not for all. Classism and racism abounded, as Black people, Asians and Native Americans were excluded (#whitepriviledgesquad). 

There are over 80 content posts, but if you want more, scroll down to the comments section. Here you can read some of the movement leaders’ own words. Many of the newspaper articles posted are just snippets, but you can go to Pinterest to read full articles.

I found this to be an exciting way to learn history, especially in today’s politicized times. I especially recommend it for teens. If you don’t have time to read through the whole exhibit, you can sign up for Instagram which will offer one image and blog post daily, eventually taking you through the whole exhibit.

Washington women vote

Though the 19th amendment was passed and women attained the vote nationwide in 1920, Washington state women got the right to vote a full 10 years earlier. Washington State History's Suffrage Special Whistle Stop Tour virtual video series offers eight videos exploring Washington State’s connection to the national suffrage movement. The name derives from a train called the Suffrage Special that carried suffragists between Spokane and Seattle in 1909 as they campaigned for the right to vote. The "whistle stops" will be hosted by local historical societies daily, Aug. 19–26, and the content is appropriate for all ages. 

If you “go”...

Find it: The White River Valley Museum in Auburn is known for its innovative exhibits. The museum is currently closed. (Its sister destination, the Mary Olson Farm, is open weekends for visitors.)

Exhibit: Access the museum's #SquadGoals digital exhibit through its website, on Pinterest or Instagram. The content will be available through 2020.

Cost: Free

Age recommendation: This exhibit is recommended for ages 13 and older, but as mentioned, families with younger kids may also find it interesting, especially given its modern and sometimes cheeky presentation.

Related events:

  • Aug. 6: Join a Zoom session called The Untold Story of Black Women Suffragists.
  • Aug. 18: RSVP for a New York Times virtual event called Unfinished Work, Finish the Fight highlighting the stories of Black, Latinx, indigenous and immigrant fighters in the movement for women's suffrage.
  • Aug. 19–26: Tune in to The Suffrage Special Whistle Stop Tour video series exploring Washington state's connection to the wider women's suffrage movement. A new video will be released each of the eight days of the event. (All videos will be viewable through Aug. 26.)
  • The White River Valley Museum is planning to offer virtual tours of #SquadGoals on Zoom and will announce dates on its Facebook page.

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