Spirits, Suffrage and Struggle

A Triangle of Amendments

This exhibition is made possible through collaboration with the following institutions:

Museum of American Political Life, University of Hartford, Hartford, CT

President Benjamin Harrison Home, Indianapolis, IN

Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center, Fremont, OH


At this point in the history of our nation, it should be no surprise that women are a driving force for change in the United States. Women marched, petitioned and lobbied through the political process to improve the equality of rights for all citizens. More radical women groups picketed, went on hunger strikes, and committed acts of civil disobedience to bring about advocacy for equality. Women’s rights groups have attempted to amend the Constitution of the United States on three specific occasions – a “triangle of amendments” - the Eighteenth, the Nineteenth and the Twenty-seventh Amendments.

The movement to establish alcohol prohibition in the United States culminated with the ratification of the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution on January 16, 1919. Prohibition was the long fought outcome of the Temperance Movement, which began in the early 1840s.

The largest and most influential temperance organization in the U.S. was the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union which formed in 1874. Our exhibition captures Prohibition’s spirit with a variety of items including oaths, pledges, honorariums and special memorabilia that honored Lucy Hayes, an advocate of Prohibition during her stay in the White House. We also feature objects from the repeal of Prohibition in 1935 with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment.

Carrie Nation , perhaps the most notorious icon of the Temperance Movement, is represented by an edition of her publication, The Hatchet. Original period clothing of the time includes dresses worn by First Ladies Lucy Hayes and Lucretia Garfield.

Many famous women’s rights leaders were involved in both the Temperance Movement and the Suffrage Movement. In 1848, Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York. In addition to working with Mott, Stanton also had a close working relationship with Susan B. Anthony and together they founded the American Equal Rights Association in 1866, followed by the National Woman Suffrage Association in1869.


Women of the United States are indebted to the suffragettes’ hard won battle for the only amendment that is a clear victory for women, the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 26, 1920 during Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

The Spirits, Suffrage and Struggle exhibition celebrates the Suffrage Movement and the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Right to Vote with banners, postcards, place settings and more. Garments worn by First Ladies include: Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, a pro-temperance and pro-suffrage supporter; Edith Wilson, who strongly opposed suffrage; and Florence Harding, who was the first First Lady to vote for her husband in a presidential election.

In addition to the “founding women” of the suffrage movement – Mott, Stanton and Anthony – other notable women of the time are honored. For example, Belva Lockwood, an early female lawyer, was the first woman admitted to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. Also a replica of sculptor Adelaide Johnson’s monument in honor of the Women’s Movement from the Rotunda of the United States Capital is featured.

In 1923, at the 75 th anniversary celebration of the 1848 Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, Alice Paul introduced the “Lucretia Mott Amendment” which evolved into what is now the Equal Rights Amendment. It stated, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.” The Equal Rights Amendment was presented yearly to every session of Congress until it finally became the Twenty-seventh Amendment to the Constitution on March 22, 1972. However, to become a permanent addition to the Consitution the Amendment required ratification by the States.

As the seven-year deadline for ratification of the ERA approached in 1979 with only 35 of the 38 states needed to pass the amendment, Congress granted a three year extension. As their Temperance and Suffrage sisters before them, both pro- and anti-ERA groups struggled with the issues. The 1982 deadline approached and the ERA remained stalled at 35 ratified states. Today the Equal Rights Amendment still continues to be reintroduced annually to Congress.

First Lady Pat Nixon was a firm believer in the Equal Rights Amendment and was most pleased by its admission to Congress during her husband’s administration. Mrs. Nixon was known for encouraging the President to appoint women to important positions.

First Lady Betty Ford ’s outspoken and sometimes controversial support of the Equal Rights Amendment was memorable. She was not hesitant to express her feelings about the rights of women both publicly and privately.

To honor their efforts in support of women and the ERA, both Nixon and Ford memorabilia is featured in this exhibit.

Women’s ERA groups also paid tribute to past activist women – Sojourner Truth and Emma Goldman are among those honored in our exhibit. In addition ERA buttons, bags and quilts are on display.

The National First Ladies’ Library is pleased to present this exhibition, Spirits, Suffrage and Struggle: A Triangle of Amendments through February 2006.