Chairman's Corner: August 20, 2020
Jo Reed: I'm Josephine Reed from the National Endowment for the Arts with The Chairman's Corner, a weekly podcast with Mary Anne Carter, Chairman of the Arts Endowment. This is where we'll discuss issues of importance to the arts community and a whole lot more.
We have some big news from the Arts Endowment. In honor of women's decades' long struggle to an access to the ballot a century ago, the Arts Endowment has just published Creativity and Persistence: Art that Fueled the Fight for Women's Suffrage. And, Mary Anne, I know you're eager to talk about it.
Mary Anne Carter: I am, Jo. I am so excited about this book. First of all, thank you to our staff here. We have been working on this book for over a year and, when we got the final product not too long ago, I was just so thrilled at the beauty and the depth of the book. And I couldn't be more pleased. And, you know, Jo, the arts-- they have a unique ability to serve as a rallying cry and they have a profound power to disseminate complex messages across large audiences in a very common, easy-to-understand manner. And, so, the intent of our book is to commemorate how the different disciplines of art were used to change the image of women in America and the narrative about the importance of their full participation in society and politics. The arts were critical to the ultimate success of the Women's Suffrage Movement.
Jo Reed: Well, Mary Anne, walk us through the book. What does it encompass?
Mary Anne Carter: So, the book has 117 images. It's a lot of pictures, but it's not a picture book. It explores how poetry and song, editorial cartoons, posters and post cards, and even fashion persuasively depicted the social status of women in the 1800s and the early 1900s and really helped rally support for Women's Suffrage.
Jo Reed: I’m going to ask if you have a favorite because that’s like asking you to choose a favorite child, but why don’t you tell us which stories or events or people spoke to you particularly?
Mary Anne Carter: Well, there really are a lot. Such a great book and so many interesting stories, but one in particular-- and I think it's really important to note this, Jo-- yes, women were granted the right to vote in 1920, but not every woman was allowed to vote. And in the book we recognized that women, especially women of color, were not immediately able to exercise their right to vote post-1920. And, so, in the book we write about an early poet, Frances E. W. Harper. Her work addressed slavery, being black in America, and suffrage. And we also include Sojourner Truth. She may be better known for her advocacy for abolition, but she added women's rights to her portfolio after a meeting with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. And, you know, so, she never learned to read or write, but in 1851 she began a lecture tour. And it included a women's right [sic] conference in Akron, Ohio, where she delivered her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech. And I call it a speech, but really it should be called a lyrical poem. And in this, she challenged the notions of racial and gender inferiority and inequality. Again, a hundred years ago, words that are pertinent today.
Jo Reed: Sojourner Truth is a hero of mine and one of the many black women who fought for woman’s suffrage. That speech is as moving now as it was when she delivered it. Truth was fearless and influential. She met with President Lincoln and President Grant in the White House. And yet she kept up her activism. In 1864. Truth rode in the streetcars in DC to force their desegregation. In 1872, she even tried to vote on Election Day, but was turned away at the polling place. And bringing this into the present- Sojourner Truth is the first African American with a statue in the Capitol Building!
Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely. Absolutely. And well-deserved.
Jo Reed: What a champion! And moving into the 20th century, a story I know you love and actually one I love, too, now, and came to surprise me was the rise of women cartoonists.
Mary Anne Carter: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Jo Reed: What a champion! And moving into the 20th century, a story I know you love because I’ve heard you talk about it—and which I learned about through the was the rise and the prominence of women cartoonists.
Mary Anne Carter: You're right. I love that story and it surprised me, too. This was not a profession I would have expected to be an avenue for women artists in the early 20th century. But the drawings of these women appeared in newspapers and magazine's around the country and not just on an occasional basis, but often as regular contributors. And one of the most important early cartoonists was Lou Rogers, who was also one of the first women to make a career out as a cartoonist and you'll enjoy Lou's cartoons in our book, beginning on Page 57. And, you know, she was recognized for both drawing and her incisive commentary. She portrayed women of strength, capability and power. And Lou Rogers is quoted as saying, "Better than almost any other medium, the picture can make a woman see the truth about the conditions into which her daughter and her neighbor's daughter go." And, you know, Jo, I think that a perfect way to summarize the theme of the book is that art in its various forms was a powerful way for women to understand their current situation and to envision a better future.
Jo Reed: And I think that's a great place to leave it this week. But nest week, we’re going to continue our conversation Creativity and Persistence.
Mary Anne Carter: Correct. And I'm looking forward to it. So many stories in the book to share
Jo Reed: Okay, Mary Anne, I'll talk to you next week.
Mary Anne Carter: Great. I'll look forward to it, Jo.
Jo Reed: That was Mary Anne Carter Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Check out arts.gov for a PDF of Creativity and Persistence, an audiobook of Creativity and Persistence and take a look at the latest issue of American Artscape which focuses on arts’ projects that celebrate women’s suffrage and equality. It’s all at arts.gov.
For the National Endowment for the Arts, I’m Josephine Reed. Stay safe and thanks for listening.
Music Credit: “Renewal” composed and performed by Doug Smith from the cd The Collection.
In the first of a two-part podcast, the chairman talks about the Arts Endowment’s recently published book Creativity and Persistence: Art that Fueled the Fight for Women's Suffrage.