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The Bee in the Bonnet: Discovering the Connection Between Clothing and Civil Rights

BYU programs collaborated with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum to investigate the role of clothing in the Suffragist Movement

October 2016 students from BYU’s art, design and music programs collaborated with the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA) and the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum in Adams, Massachusetts to investigate the role clothing played in the Suffragist Movement. The group was led by faculty from the College of Fine Arts and Communications, including Joe Ostraff, Gary Barton and Jen Watson from the Department of Art, and Linda Reynolds from the Department of Design.

BYU and MCLA possess rich ties to the Suffragist Movement, Susan B. Anthony and the clothing that became a part of the suffragist history. MCLA is located minutes away from Anthony’s birthplace and childhood home, while BYU’s home state of Utah was one of the first territories and states to grant women the right to vote. Anthony later helped Utah transition from territory to state and a group of Utah women sewed an elaborate black silk dress to thank her. This dress is currently on display in the Susan B. Anthony Museum & House in Rochester, New York. Clothing was further used by Anthony and other suffragists in a variety of ways to make statements, change ideals, improve hygiene and identify their important cause.

While in Massachusetts, students researched the Suffragist Movement and visited several historic sites. Several BYU students had the opportunity to spend four nights in the upstairs bedroom of Anthony’s old house, now occupied by the museum.

The five-day collaboration, which took place in North Adams, included an intensive three-day book arts and printmaking workshop with students and faculty from MCLA and a one-day workshop in the papermaking studio at the historic Crane Museum of Papermaking. During these workshops BYU and MCLA students worked together to complete two projects under time and material restraints.

“I loved that we worked on art projects at the school with the other students that put us outside of our comfort areas,” said Megan Livingston, who was a senior in the BFA program at the time.

After the trip, each student from BYU and MCLA created their own artwork based on their research during the collaboration. Livingston said she enjoyed the time to think about her project and to create something personally meaningful.

All creative works from the collaboration were included in a group exhibition at the MCLA Gallery 51 and later on BYU campus. These works will also be used by the Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum to celebrate the 100th year of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and the Suffragist Movement.

Participating students expressed appreciation for the opportunity to collaborate with people outside of BYU on an important subject, and to learn from them. Furthermore, they came away more knowledgeable about the Suffrage Movement and inspired by the sacrifices made so that women could vote.

This project was funded through the Laycock Endowment from the Laycock Center for Collaboration in the Arts.