Framing the Public Humanities: Lessons from the Suffrage Movement

Sarah James & Crystal Wallace

Directed by Dr. Jen McDaneld

Across the year, our project “Framing the Public Humanities: Lessons from the Suffrage Movement” sought to publicize the new Public Research Fellows program on the UP campus by drawing on the activism and outreach of the U.S. suffrage movement. Suffragists were model public humanists; unable to afford to only speak to like-minded audiences, they  instead had to develop a range of creative ways to promote their cause to the public. For instance, in 1916 suffragists designed valentines to send to Congressmen and President Wilson to encourage them to support the 19th Amendment. They also used lunch wagons at public events like Portland’s own Rose festival to educate a wider public on women’s need for the vote.

Using these tactics as models, we created our own promotional projects for the Public Research Fellows. We designed our symposium presentation as an interactive experience that will teach attendees about the suffrage movement and show them the power of the humanities. Two tents will house large posters explaining what the public humanities are, how suffragists modeled successful public engagement methods, and why the humanities matter in today’s world. Our exhibit demonstrates one of our key research findings: that the suffrage movement went beyond the stereotype of women giving speeches; it was instead far more creative and engagement, using methods that scholars can and should emulate today.