The Concord Museum opened a new exhibition, “Every Path Laid Open: Women of Concord & the Quest for Equality” this summer. The exhibition is a collection of rare artifacts, which tell the story of women in Concord and honor the struggle that led to the 19th Amendment. Each portrait, piece of artwork, and historical antiquity has a story about the lives of ordinary and famous women. The exhibition is part of the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, which gave all citizens, regardless of their sex, the right to vote.
The exhibition takes its name from one of the 19th century’s most notable feminists, Margaret Fuller. Fuller was a frequent visitor to Concord – as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s friend and Henry David Thoreau’s first editor, she was famous in the town. In 1845, she demanded that “every path laid open to Woman as freely to Man”. This rally cry, written seventy-five years before American women were allowed to vote in national elections, inspired the women’s equality movement that persists to this day.
While Concord is best known for its role in the American Revolution and as a rich literary community, it was also at the heart of the abolition and women’s rights movements. In the 1840s, these two movements joined together, resulting in the Concord Anti-Slavery Society, one of the most committed abolitionist groups in New England. The Society hosted prominent abolitionists Wendell Phillips, William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and the Grimke sisters to speak to the people of Concord.
At the same time, women’s suffrage took off in Concord. Lousia May Alcott, Concord local and famed author of Little Women , insisted that “the tax-paying women of Concord” should be afforded the same liberties and rights as their male counterparts. When the Massachusetts legislature legalized women’s rights to participate in school committee elections in 1879, Lousia May Alcott was the first woman in Concord to register to vote.
Another born-and-bred Concordian, Anne Bush, was the first woman licensed to drive an automobile in America. In 1900, twenty-two year old Anne Bush was awarded a Steam Engineer’s License Locomobile class. Although her examiners were initially hesitant to license her, she impressed them with her command and technical knowledge.
Some of the other women featured in the exhibit include: Mary Merrimack Brooks, the daughter of a slaveholder who dedicated her life to the abolitionist movement; Ellen Garrison, a 12-year-old African American girl who walked hand-in-hand with her white classmate Abba Prescott in the 1835 Bicentennial Parade; Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts, who brought the international art world to Concord by founding the Concord Art Centre in 1917 (which still exists!); Sophia Thoreau, Henry’s sister, who edited and posthumously published his works, and Margaret Fuller Ossoli, the first woman journalist to serve overseas during wartime for a major American newspaper.
On the far end of the exhibit, a huge quilt dominating one wall has squares which depict a familiar scene of Concord’s history. It was sewn by the women in the community as a way to record history. In another room, a mannequin is dressed up wearing an old-fashioned biker’s outfit, which shows a stark contrast from the spandex-clad bikers who trek through Concord today. Another mannequin displays an outfit worn by suffragettes during a march in 1917. Evidently, Concord’s women were far ahead of their time.
Every Path Laid Open is also accompanied by a historical walking tour, giving perspective to the stories in the exhibition. So, take a minute and head over to the Concord Museum before November 7th!