Hear, See, and Taste Voting Rights History

October 13, 2020

By Isa Ruelas

Suffragists often used fashion to spread the word about obtaining women’s right to vote. They used a common color palate to unify different organizations, associations, and states, and The Congressional Union for Women’s Suffrage adopted the colors purple, white, and gold. Lisa Marie Sample, a member of the Edwardian Society of Oregon, chalked a portrait of a suffragist with the text of the 19th Amendment overlaid on an American flag on her front porch in Camas, Washington, as part of the #ChalkTheVoteOR campaign. It took about 2 hours to complete the drawing. Photo courtesy of Lisa Marie Sample.

Today, Tuesday, October 13, is the last day in Oregon to register to vote in the November 3, 2020, election. As part of the #ChalktheVoteOR campaign, the Oregon Historical Society continues to highlight the many changes to our state’s and nation’s voting rights in an effort to better understand this complex history to help envision a better tomorrow. In our first post in this blog series, we explored the five main Constitutional Amendments and laws that form the legal foundation for full voting rights in the United States. In our second post, we shared some educational activities to help community members learn more about voting rights history. Today, we’ve gathered a few more activities to engage your senses when making connections between the past and present.

Songs of the Movements

Music is a key component of social movements and a vital form of self-expression. Protest songs from all over the world have been written to galvanize movements by drawing people together and inspiring them to take action. Music can also create a sense of collective identity and act as a vehicle for solidarity. An important part of rallies and meetings, music fueled abolitionist, suffrage, and civil rights movements. Changing technology, such as radio and television, helped activists spread their messages to larger audiences.

The Library of Congress is a great resource for reading about music from these movements, including songs related to slavery and abolition, songs of the national woman suffrage movement, and music from the civil rights movement. Below we’ve listed links to songs from each movement that you can listen to and think about how abolitionists, suffragists, and civil rights activists use music as a form of resistance. How do current social movements use music? Does music have a value beyond entertainment? After listening to the songs, try writing your own protest song or creating a playlist of songs for a cause you believe in.

The Hardtacks, a group of performers who play folk music of the Civil War era, presented a program titled “Freedom: 19th Century Songs of Slavery & Abolition,” which highlighted African Americans’ struggle for freedom. “I’m off for California,” is one of the songs they perform, which is set to the melody of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah” and reflects a slave’s experience of forced migration. You can listen to The Hardtacks perform this version of the song as well as read the lyrics and context about African Americans migrating to the West during the California Gold Rush.

Lyrics, “I’m off for California.” Library of Congress, Rare Books and Special Collections Division, America Singing: Nineteenth-Century Song Sheets
An anonymous rendition of Stephen Foster’s “Oh Susannah,” the song “I’m off for California” reflects a slave’s experience of forced migration. The lyrics to the song are pictured here.
Sheet music for “Daughters of Freedom, the Ballot Be Yours,” 1871. Library of Congress, Music Division, Microfilm M 3500 M2.3.U6A44.
The suffrage song, “Daughters of Freedom, the Ballot Be Yours,” was written in 1871 and encouraged women to keep fighting for the right to vote.

Daughters of Freedom, the Ballot Be Yours,” composed in 1871 by Edwin Christie with lyrics written by George Cooper, encourages women to “march to the watch words Justice and Right! Yield not the battle until ye have won!” By 1871, women had been organizing and fighting for the right to vote, and activists had founded woman suffrage organizations in Oregon. You can learn about highlights from the Oregon suffrage movement on the Nevertheless They Persisted: Women’s Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment exhibit page.

The Smithsonian Institution’s We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Riders and Sit-ins Folkways Recording album is a great way to listen to freedom songs from the civil rights movement. You can hear the African American traditional spirituals and gospel songs that fueled marches, sit-ins, and freedom rides during the late 1950s and early 1960s. These songs, according to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., were “the soul of the movement…the sorrow songs, the shouts for joy, the battle hymns, and the anthem of our movement.”

“We Shall Overcome: Songs of the Freedom Riders and the Sit-ins” album, 2013, Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution’s Folkways Recordings includes a number of songs that fueled the civil rights movement during the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Souvenir program from a banquet in honor of Susan B. Anthony. OHS Research Library, Mss 2506, folder 45, 001
A yellow ribbon adorns the cover of this souvenir program from a banquet in honor of Susan B. Anthony, which is currently on display in the OHS exhibit, “Nevertheless, They Persisted.” OHS Research Library, Mss 2506, folder 45, 001.

Commemorate in Color

Purple, white, and gold are the colors that represented the woman suffrage movement in the United States. The National Woman’s Party described the meaning of these colors in a newsletter published on December 6, 1913: “Purple is the color of loyalty, constancy to purpose, unswerving steadfastness to a cause. White, the emblem of purity, symbolizes the quality of our purpose; and gold, the color of light and life, is as the torch that guides our purpose, pure and unswerving.”

Kansas sunflowers inspired suffragists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to incorporate yellow and gold into the women’s movement. The use of yellow would go on to inspire “The Yellow Ribbon,” a song that was performed in 1876 during U.S. Centennial celebrations. Anti-suffrage propaganda often portrayed suffragists with exaggerated masculine traits, so to combat the inaccurate portrayal, suffragists embraced visibly feminine attire. Suffragists often wore white dresses during parades to stand out in photography and to counter the anti-suffrage media image.

Suffragists used these colors as a symbol of their movement and to call attention to their actions. Use the colors to create your own suffrage banner and sash. You could also plant flowers in yellow, white, and purple varieties to symbolize voting rights.

Recipes for and against Suffrage

In a May 9, 1867, address to the first annual meeting of the American Equal Rights Association, activist Sojourner Truth described the work of Black women compared to men and white women: “We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much…. When we get our rights we shall not have to come to you for money, for then we shall have money enough in our pockets; and maybe you will ask us for money.” Truth was an outspoken advocate for abolition and women’s rights through her public lecture tours.

Menu listed in souvenir program from a banquet in honor of Susan B. Anthony. OHS Research Library, Mss 2506, folder 45, 001
Included in the souvenir program from a banquet in honor of Susan B. Anthony was the menu from the event. OHS Research Library, Mss 2506, folder 45, 001.

While the national suffragist movement focused on openly public campaigns, early Pacific Northwest suffragists took a different approach, using tactics outside of the public view to prevent the rousing of opposition. Abigail Scott Duniway called this approach the “still hunt,” or an approach of non-confrontation. One manifestation of these efforts was the humble cookbook. Suffrage cookbooks were filled with propaganda for women’s enfranchisement. They also served to counter the anti-suffrage media image of suffragists as ill-fitting mothers and wives.

The Suffrage Cook Book, consisting of recipes, celebrity endorsements — including one from Oregon Governor Oswald West — photographs, and jokes, is now available in its entirety online. Give a suffrage recipe a try, and let us know how it goes!

One recipe that stands out in the cookbook is for Anti’s Favorite Hash. The author notes: “Unless you wear dark glasses, you cannot make a success of Anti’s Favorite Hash”:

Anti’s Favorite Hash
1 lb. truth thoroughly mangled
1 general handful of injustice
(sprinkle over everything in the pan)
1 tumbler acetic acid (well shaken)

In commemoration of the 100 years since the 19th Amendment was ratified, the American Bar Association Commission on the Nineteenth Amendment has produced, The Nineteenth Amendment Centennial Cookbook: 100 Recipes for 100 Years, a free, downloadable cookbook with recipes from Supreme Court justices, judges, lawyers, scholars, and others involved in the legal field as well as artwork, quotes, and archival images.

The Fight Continues

Information on how to vote for Oregonians displaced by wildfires

  • Ballots will begin being mailed on October 14. If you know an address where you will be able to receive mail then, you can add a temporary mailing address at oregonvotes.gov/myvote.
  • If you want to use a paper form to provide a temporary address Download the Absentee Ballot Request Form (PDF).
  • You can pick up all of your mail (including ballots once they are mailed) at the post office that serves your permanent residence address.
  • Contact your county election office after October 1 for additional options they may have for pickup. Find yours here.

For frequently asked questions, visit oregonvotes.gov/fires.

How do I register to vote in Oregon?

The deadline to register to vote in Oregon during the upcoming November 3, 2020, election is Tuesday, October 13 (TODAY!). You can register online at the Oregon Secretary of State website. You can also check your Oregon voter registration status on MyVote.

When do I need to update my registration?

You should update your registration if you move, change your name or mailing address, or want to select or change your party affiliation. Registering a name change should be done using the paper registration form so the Secretary of State’s office has a record of your new signature.

When are ballots mailed in Oregon?

If you have registered by the deadline, ballots arrive in the mail approximately two weeks before an election. If you are not yet 18 years of age, you will not receive a ballot until an election occurs on or after your 18th birthday.

If you live in Multnomah County, then you can sign up for #TrackYourBallot at multnomah.ballottrax.net and get text, email, or voice alerts telling you when the County elections office has mailed your ballot, and upon return when we have received your ballot. Make sure your vote counts!

What if I have other questions?

Please check your local county election division to answer any question about voting and elections. The Oregon Historical Society is located in Multnomah County, and our county election division can be accessed here.

Isa Ruelas’s Other Posts

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