Historical Society hosts talk on women’s suffrage movement

Amenia Historical Society vice president Betsy Strauss, left, visits with author and historian Carol Crossed following a talk by Crossed on her book, “Vintage Tweets” that collected penny postcards promoting the women’s suffrage movement in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Leila Hawken

Historical Society hosts talk on women’s suffrage movement

AMENIA — The women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as depicted in the design of penny postcards was the subject of a talk by author and historian Carol Crossed at the Amenia Town Hall on Sunday, April 28. The talk was sponsored by the Amenia Historical Society.

Titled “Vintage Tweets: Suffrage Era Postcards,” the presentation bore the same title as Crossed’s 2019 book explicating vintage postcards collected over the past 25 years. Penny postcards continued until 1945 when the postage increased from one cent.

“My obsession is collecting old postcards,” Crossed said, noting that her husband’s profession in Rochester, New York, had been converting old buildings into affordable housing units. Her interest developed as she sought old postcards depicting those old buildings in their prime.

Crossed is the founder and president of the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Mass. Anthony’s later activist life was based in Rochester, where she made her home.

“Postcards were like telephones,” Crossed explained, often used for simple everyday messages that might today be conveyed by phone or text. Only the postmark sets the date the postcard was mailed, not the date it was created or produced.

Between 1902 and 1909, some postcards were printed on soft leather with edging cut for easy piecing together into table runners or dresser scarves. Heavier cardstock remained in use, Crossed said.

In all, 2,200 postcards were designed and printed to present the suffragist campaign. People in the U.S. supporting the suffrage movement were knows as “suffragists,” but mainly in Great Britain, they were known as “suffragettes,” Crossed said.

A schoolteacher, Susan B. Anthony linked the women’s vote campaign to related interests of women of the time, such as the temperance movement and the abolitionist campaign. Postcards would depict domestic life, sometimes with images of violence or repression, intimating that if women could vote, they would create a better world for families.

Many postcards showed the independence afforded to women with the advent of the bicycle and the changes in fashion that the bicycle brought.

In 1858, Anthony began publishing a newspaper, “The Revolution,” hiring Elizabeth Cady Stanton as the editor, Crossed said.

Issues of the day were suffrage for women and soon to be freed slaves, abortion and clothing reform. Suffragists were consistent in their opposition to violence, war and abortion, Crossed explained.

The earliest postcards did not have the line down the middle so that the message could be to the left and the address to the right. That innovation came about in 1909, giving today’s collectors an easy way to judge the age of a postcard.

The Historical Society hosted a reception following the talk.

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