Driving the Disenfranchised

A 1908 Overland model on display at The Car and Carriage Museum


Driving the Disenfranchised

Author: Meghan Lees, HAA1030 Museum Studies Exhibition Seminar student – Fall 2018

Organized by one of our partners, The Frick Pittsburgh, Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile’s Role in Women’s Suffrage explores how the automobile served not only as a turning point for modern life, but also as an iconic symbol for female suffragists during the Progressive Era. Through the installation of a range of women’s fashion and vintage vehicles, many in the trademark yellow of the suffrage movement, the exhibition sends the visitor on a journey through the early twentieth century activism. The creation of the automobile allowed women a form of escape from the confines of the home. It was a symbol of individual mobility and social change. Vehicles were used in activist rallies and decorated in the suffragist’s message for independence and equality.

This history closely connects with the ideas raised by our exhibition This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation, opening at the University Art Gallery on 26 October. But one way that these exhibitions differ is in their overall tone. Since it commemorates the journey of activism towards giving citizens the right to vote regardless of sex from the first Women’s Rights Convention in July 1848 to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, The Frick Pittsburgh’s exhibit has an appropriately upbeat tone. It is conveys a feeling of pride in documenting the work of these early-twentieth century activists, and shows how a technological innovation, such as an automobile, can produce profound psychological changes in society. This is not Ideal, on the other hand, is less straightforwardly positive. With the title – This is not Ideal – we are taking a stand on issues of gender. The viewer is not meant to look fondly on the narratives told by many of the works we have selected from the UAG collection. Our exhibition asks the visitor to reflect not just on the changing nature of gender myths, but also on the progress that remains to be made.

The Frick Pittsburgh’s Driving the Disenfranchised: The Automobile’s Role in Women’s Suffrage is currently being held at the Car and Carriage Museum and will continue to be displayed through October 21. This is not Ideal: Gender myths and their transformation opens October 25.

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