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Women's vote centennial celebrated with Tacoma exhibit

The new interactive display at the Washington State History Museum is perfectly timed for election season.

TACOMA, Wash. — It's only been 100 years since women gained the right to vote nationwide.

You can learn all about it at Washington State History Museum's new exhibit Votes for Women - 100 Years and Counting.

It was slated to open in April, closer to the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibited states and the federal government from denying or abridging voting rights on the basis of sex. 

But the pandemic pushed the opening to fall. Perfect timing, says the museum’s Director of Audience Engagement:

"It's just as relevant during this election cycle, as it would have been prior to that centennial, so bring it on,” said Mary Mikel Stump.

The new exhibit is interactive: “This is really different from anything we've ever done before. We decided that we wanted to make this exhibition a game,” said Stump. The exhibit is curated by Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, Northwest authors of the award-winning 2016 book Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color. Visitors spin ‘Suffrage Wheels’ with a special touch-free tool to keep it contact-free, and depending on where the quasi roulette wheel lands, may or may not get to vote on their favorite artifact. The idea is to challenge visitors the same way women seeking the right to vote were challenged. 

A flag dress worn in a pro-suffrage pageant, an envelope stuffed full of the 2000 presidential election’s notorious hanging chads, and a cookbook with a voting rights plea on the cover are just a few of the items seeking election to ‘best in exhibit’.

A prescient part of the timeline running through the exhibit shows the 1918 flu pandemic’s impact on that year’s election, as well as how the current COVID 19 pandemic will likely become another election year game changer.

“History is always happening,” said Stump.

There's a massive vintage voting booth, an election year Barbie and her female running mate who didn’t quite go all the way during the 2016 presidential race, and plenty of other pieces of women's voting history.

But a simple quote is one of Stump’s favorite pieces.

It's from Representative Shirley Chisholm - who in 1972 was the first African American candidate for a major party's nomination to be President.

“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”

Votes for Women: 100 Years and Counting continues through January 17th at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

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