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Thou Art Woman

Updated: Apr 2

Bryan Brouwer


Women's history is a vast and complex topic that spans centuries and continents. Throughout history, women have played critical roles in shaping societies, cultures, and political movements. Despite facing significant obstacles and discrimination, women have made remarkable achievements in various fields, including art and expression. In this blog post, we will explore women's history, highlighting their contributions to art and expression, and the challenges they faced along the way.

Early Women's History

Women roles and contributions have often been overlooked or minimized. In prehistoric times, women were instrumental in the development of agriculture and the domestication of animals. In ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, women played significant roles in religious and cultural practices, including as priestesses, poets, and artists. In the Middle Ages, women were active participants in the development of Christian mysticism and religious orders, and some were able to achieve positions of power and influence, such as Queen Isabella of Spain.

Women's Suffrage

The suffrage movement, also known as the women's suffrage movement, was a social, political, and cultural movement that fought for women's right to vote and participate in democratic processes. It began in the mid-19th century and continued until the early 20th century, culminating in the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920. During this time, women from different backgrounds and with different political ideologies came together to demand the right to vote, and many used their artistic talents to support the cause.

Art and the Suffrage Movement

The suffrage movement was deeply rooted in the arts, and art was used in various forms to promote the movement's message. Women's suffrage art ranged from posters and cartoons to illustrations and photographs, and it was intended to influence public opinion and rally support for the cause. Suffrage art was a powerful tool for conveying ideas and creating visual representations of the movement's goals and values.

One of the most iconic forms of suffrage art was the suffrage poster. These posters were designed to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing, and they featured bold colors, striking typography, and powerful imagery. Many suffrage posters depicted women as strong, independent, and intelligent, challenging the prevailing stereotype of women as weak and subordinate.

One famous example is the "Votes for Women" poster created by British artist Hilda Dallas in 1909. This poster features a suffragette holding a banner and wearing the movement's signature colors of green, purple, and white.

Cartoons and illustrations were also used to promote the suffrage movement. Political cartoons in newspapers and magazines often depicted suffragettes as militant and aggressive, while illustrations in books and magazines portrayed suffragettes as intelligent and dignified.

One example of suffrage illustration is the "The Awakening" by American artist James Earle Fraser, which depicts a woman breaking free from the chains of oppression and reaching for the ballot box.

[Inez Milholland Boissevain preparing to lead the March 3, 1913, suffrage parade in Washington, D.C.]

Photography was another important medium for suffrage art. Photographs of suffragettes in action, such as picketing and marching, were used to document the movement's activities and to demonstrate the dedication and commitment of the women involved.

Some suffragettes even staged photo shoots to create images that would be used in posters and other propaganda materials. For example, the British suffragette Christina Broom took photographs of suffrage rallies and used them to create postcards and other items to sell to supporters.

The suffrage movement was a pivotal moment in the history of women's rights, and art played a crucial role in promoting its message and values. Suffrage art was used to challenge stereotypes, inspire action, and create a visual representation of the movement's goals and aspirations. Today, suffrage art serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles and achievements of the suffrage movement and continues to inspire artists and activists to fight for social justice and equality.

In summary, the suffrage movement and its relation to art demonstrate the power of creativity and expression in promoting social and political change. By using their artistic talents to support the suffrage cause, women and men were able to shape public opinion, inspire action, and ultimately secure the right to vote for millions of women around the world. As we continue to fight for gender equality and women's rights, we can look to the suffrage movement as an example of the transformative power of art and activism.

Women and Slavery

During the time of slavery in the United States, 1620 until1865,  women played a vital role in the Underground Railroad and in resistance against slavery through art. From quilting to portraiture, women created visual expressions of their struggles and experiences that have become lasting testaments to their strength and resilience.

The Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses that enslaved people used to escape to freedom in the North or Canada. Women played a crucial role in this network, providing food, shelter, and assistance to those escaping slavery. Quilts were a particularly important tool for women in the Underground Railroad. Many quilts had secret codes sewn into them, such as the "Jacob's Ladder" pattern, which indicated a safe path to freedom. Quilts were also used to communicate with those escaping slavery, providing them with information about the next safe house or the best time to travel.

Quilts were not the only form of art that women used to resist slavery.

Portraiture was also a powerful tool. Enslaved women, who were often denied the right to have their portraits taken, would sometimes use their own bodies as canvases, marking themselves with scars or tattoos to express their identities and assert their autonomy. Women who were able to have their portraits taken used them to assert their dignity and humanity in the face of dehumanizing oppression.

Harriet Powers Quilt

One notable example of a woman who used portraiture to resist slavery is Harriet Powers. Powers was born into slavery in Georgia in the early 19th century and was known for her skill in quiltmaking. She also created a series of story quilts, which depicted scenes from the Bible and African American folklore. Powers used these quilts to tell stories of her own life and experiences, as well as to assert her identity as a black woman and a person of faith. Today, Powers' quilts are celebrated as masterpieces of African American art and a testament to the resilience of enslaved women.

The work of women during the time of slavery is an important part of American history and art. Their quilts and portraits provide powerful insights into the experiences of enslaved women and the ways in which they resisted and asserted their humanity. By studying and celebrating their work, we can honor their legacy and gain a deeper understanding of our shared past.

Women in the 20th Century

The 20th century was a time of significant change and progress for women, as they gained more rights and opportunities in various fields. The women's liberation movement, which started in the 1960s, focused on achieving gender equality and breaking down barriers for women in all aspects of society. Women played critical roles in the civil rights movement, including Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, and Fannie Lou Hamer. Women also made significant contributions to the arts, including writers like Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, and Maya Angelou, musicians like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Joni Mitchell, and artists like Frida Kahlo, Geor gia O'Keeffe, and Louise Bourgeois.

Deliberation by Mario Sanchez Nevado - Graphic Art on Canvas

Women in the Arts

Throughout history, women have made significant contributions to the arts, but their achievements have often been overshadowed or ignored. In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the role of women in art, with exhibitions and books highlighting their contributions. Women have been active in all areas of the arts, including literature, music, film, visual arts, and theater. Examples include writers such as Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and Margaret Atwood, musicians such as Beyoncé, Adele, and Taylor Swift, filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay, Kathryn Bigelow, and Sofia Coppola, visual artists such as Yayoi Kusama,

Current Issues in Women's Rights

While significant progress has been made in women's rights over the past century, there are still many challenges that women face today. Here are some of the current issues related to women's rights:

Pay Equity

Women still earn less than men in many countries, despite having the same qualifications and doing the same work. In the United States, women earn 82 cents for every dollar earned by men, and the gap is even wider for women of color.

Reproductive Rights

Women's reproductive rights have been a topic of controversy in many countries. Access to contraception and safe abortion is still limited in many places, and some governments have tried to restrict or ban these rights altogether.

Violence Against Women

Violence against women is a significant issue globally. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women worldwide has experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Many women also face other forms of violence, including emotional abuse, harassment, and trafficking.

Political Representation

Women are still underrepresented in politics, both in the United States and globally. Women hold only 23.7% of the seats in national parliaments worldwide, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

Women in Art and Expression Today

Despite the challenges they face, women continue to make significant contributions to art and expression today. Here are some examples:

Visual Art

Contemporary artists such as Kara Walker, Cindy Sherman, and Shirin Neshat have gained international recognition for their powerful and thought-provoking work that challenges gender and racial stereotypes.


Women continue to dominate the music industry, with artists such as Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, and Taylor Swift breaking records and pushing boundaries with their music and performances.

Film and Television

Women filmmakers and producers are gaining more recognition in the entertainment industry, with directors such as Greta Gerwig, Chloe Zhao, and Ava DuVernay receiving critical acclaim for their work.


Women writers are exploring new themes and genres, with authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Zadie Smith, and Sally Rooney gaining widespread acclaim for their novels and essays.


Woman have faced many obstacles throughout history, and have overcome. They continue to fight the inequalities and the misperceptions, always trying to be viewed as a person with equality.

Recently, with the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision being overturned there had been an attempt to remove the very personhood of women by not giving them control over their own bodies, and even having the state monitor their travels and menstrual cycles.

The battle continues as we stand with the women we love, the women who raised us, the women we work with and work for, to stand for their right to be recognized as an equal partner.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.


• National Museum of African American History and Culture. (n.d.). Harriet Powers.

• National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. (n.d.). The Jacob's Ladder Quilt Code.

• Smithsonian Magazine. (2019, February 6). The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers.

"The State of the World's Children 2019: Children, Food and Nutrition," UNICEF, accessed March 30, 2023,

"Women in Politics 2021," Inter-Parliamentary Union, accessed March 30, 2023,

"Pay Equity and Discrimination," National Women's Law Center, accessed March 30, 2023,

DVD Citations

If you're interested in learning more about the suffrage movement and its relation to art, there are many resources available. Some recommended DVDs include:

"One Woman, One Vote" (1995) - This documentary traces the history of the women's suffrage movement in the United States, with a focus on the role of women in art and culture.

"Suffragette" (2015) - This feature film tells the story of the British suffrage movement, with a particular emphasis on the experiences of working-class women and the use of militant tactics.

"Iron Jawed Angels" (2004) - This film is based on the true story of American suffragettes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, who led the National Woman's Party in the fight for women's suffrage and were instrumental in the passage of the 19th Amendment.

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