Introduction

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2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment granting women the right to vote. In 2020, celebrations and commemorations are being held throughout the United States. The anniversary is giving rise to new research and countless exhibitions and publications. Many of these projects stress the limitations of the 19th amendment, noting that in some states African-American women were effectively disenfranchised through poll taxes, literacy tests, and other restrictions on voting. Others show how even after winning the vote, women still faced discrimination in their daily lives. This exhibition examines the experience of women at the local level, specifically in Middlesex County, New Jersey. The history of women’s suffrage in New Jersey tends to be dominated by the story of important leaders like Alice Paul of Moorestown, or Lucy Stone and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who both lived in the state for a period of time. While large cities like Newark and Paterson have dominated the narrative, in Middlesex County women were active in the small cities of New Brunswick and Perth Amboy, as well as in the growing towns of Metuchen and Woodbridge. This exhibit aims to tell their story, placing it, of course, in the larger context of the struggle for women’s suffrage in the state of New Jersey and the United States as a whole. The fight for suffrage was not simply about the right to enfranchisement but was tied to women having control over their lives and giving voice to their opinions through having a say in the laws that affected them, rather than being dependent on men. As voters, women advocated for laws benefiting them such as increasing women’s wages, improving working conditions, and promoting child welfare.

Introduction