Lexington Suffragist Tableau
In honor of the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, a group of Lexington women gathered in winter 2020 to stage a suffragist tableau.
The tableau honors a group of Massachusetts women who had traveled to Washington, D.C. as delegates to the Suffrage Procession held March 1913, on the weekend of the inauguration of President Wilson.
Something Must Be Done!
Vera Perin Lane was selected to serve as the official delegate for Lexington, and given the special honor of bearing the "Something Must Be Done" banner.
Jessie Steigerwald first saw the group photograph which appears in the video (taken by Richard Sears) while visiting Schlesinger Library. She noticed that a banner in the photograph included the word "Lexington" and that the women wore Massachusetts sashes. Research confirmed that the photograph was of women from the Massachusetts delegation, and Jessie set about to gather a group of friends to create a tableau in time for the Suffrage Centennial. The pageant organizers sought to have continents from every state.
Massachusetts Cod Banner
The taller banner on view reads "Massachusetts" across the top and "VOTES FOR WOMEN" on the bottom. The banner includes two large cod fish, which connects to the 'sacred cod' theme on display both at the Massachusetts State House and in the Boston Public Library. There is also the image of the dome, placed prominently in the center of the banner.
We are in search of any information about this banner. It was seen in a New York parade, and we hope to learn more about this banner. Recreating the banner, Jessie Steigerwald selected red based on viewing period suffrage banners, but has found no source to inform us about the true colors in the banner.
Creating the "Something Must Be Done" Tableau
Something Must Be Done!
The "Something Must Be Done" banner carried by the Lexington delegate, Vera P. Lane, included the year 1887 and the phrase "Something Must Be Done." At first, it was a mystery why the banner cited 1887 rather than 1913. Research explained that this particular suffrage banner was made by Eliza Wellington in 1887 and serves as a reminder that women had already been fighting for suffrage for more than 25 years by the time the first march on Washington D.C. took place. Recreating the banner, Jessie Steigerwald relied on examination of textiles in the Lexington Historical Society and suffrage banners in the Schlesinger Library collection.
In using the phrase "Something Must Be Done" the Wellington sisters were uplifting the patriotic spirit of their grandparents, and echoing the voice of Abigail Harrington whose actions on the morning of April 19, 1775 had become part of the community's narrative for the start of the American Revolution. In the early morning hours, Abigail woke up her son Jonathan - the fifer for Captain Parker - by calling out "The Reg'lars are out and Something Must Be Done!"
As Caroline passed the banner to Vera Lane, it was understood that those who championed women's right to vote were aligning themselves with the patriotic generation who fought for Liberty during the Revolution.
The suffragists in the photo of this delegation each wore sashes that said "Massachusetts." Fortunately, it was possible to determine the color of the sashes because Schlesinger Library's collection includes an original sash worn in the 1913 parade by Grace Johnson. Ms. Johnson helpfully labeled her sash, noting that she wore a specific Massachusetts sash in Washington, D.C. for President Wilson's March 1913 inauguration. Ms. Johnson is not included in this photograph, and she marched with a different group in the parade.
Costumes worn include a range of pieces from vintage pieces to thrift store finds. Several coats in the original photo included prominent decorative features, from buttons and ribbons to collars and pins. The coat collection team included Corinne Steigerwald, Michelle Tran, Diane Biglow and Kamala Raj. Some participants wore their own coats. Coat alterations were done by Michelle Tran and Jessie Steigerwald. Skirts were sewn by Jessie. Two replica jackets were commercially made.
Each hat worn in the tableau was made by Corinne Steigerwald. Hats worn by suffragists in the original 1913 photograph included a wide range of forms and styles. Several hats were heavily adorned with feathers and bows.
Materials used include: satin, velvet, netting, tulle, lace.