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Women's Suffrage at Mt. Holyoke, 1900-1920:
Activism And Ambivalence



Suffrage Demonstration at Commencement, Mt. Holyoke College, 1916 Courtesy MHC Archives


The above photograph from Commencement, 1916, shows graduating seniors in caps and gowns alongside students demonstrating for “Votes for Women”. There is a drummer-girl front and center, who would have functioned as an attention-getter, saying in effect, “hey, come see what we’re up to and join our cause!” Several of the photo subjects are wearing “Votes for Women” sashes over their clothing, and one person carries a large poster encouraging voters (men) to show their support by voting for women’s suffrage. The students are lined up as if awaiting their marching orders as a couple of large sail-like banners float aloft in the background. The young women’s outfits are ankle-length white dresses with open collars beneath their caps and gowns or sweaters; no more high-collared fashions for these modern women!

One may well wonder how the graduating seniors felt about this political demonstration taking place during their commencement exercises. Were they equally as supportive of this cause as the demonstrators, or were they perhaps annoyed or embarrassed by those trouble-making underclassmen? How did the faculty and administration regard this scene? Of course, we can only conjecture about the sentiments behind the particular moment captured in this photograph, however we can a better picture of the historical context by looking at other documents as well.


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This page was created by Kira Kmetz FP in History 283, Fall Semester 2003 -