Equal Rights Stuff

The Susan B. Anthony dollar coins are so sad. I mean, really, who uses them? They're forever being confused with quarters, jamming soda machines, baffling 7-Eleven clerks and sitting unused in change jars across the country. The Susan B. Anthony coin isn't even the big cheese anymore now that that whippersnapper Sacajawea stole the show with her fancy gold one. Personally, I think Anthony, a tireless advocate for women's suffrage, should be on the $20 bill. In my new role as U.S. mint operator, I'd also stick Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the 10, Amelia Bloomer on the five and Lucretia Mott on singles because the work these activists did to gain political enfranchisement for women was the bee's knees. Eighty-five years later, the Women's Museum of Dallas is marking the monumental achievements of all American suffragettes with the 85th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage Exhibit & Celebration, which opens Tuesday.

The exhibit is an at-times-creepy flashback to an era when women were admonished not to seek equal rights, but to cherish their roles as "wives, belles, virgins and mothers." (Wait, didn't Pat Robertson say something similar recently? Well, he's creepy, too.) A Suffrage Trail through the museum draws attention to items from the permanent collection that didn't get hauled up to the third floor for the main showcase, which is where you should head. Once there, you can't miss the gigantic time line marking the critical moments and events in the countdown to votes for women. Take, for instance, Abigail Adams in 1776 asking her husband John to "remember the ladies" when drafting the Declaration of Independence (perhaps she was angling for an "and women" in the phrase "all men are created equal"). Or the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention with its Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, a philosophical road map for the feminist movement. Who would have thought that the Equal Rights Amendment, that political hot potato of the 1980s, was actually first proposed in 1923? And that Phyllis Schlafly opposed it then, too? (OK, so she's not quite that old.)

There are video and photo portions of the exhibit, including 1 p.m. daily showings of HBO's drama Iron Jawed Angels about suffragettes Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, representatives of a more radical wing of the movement. They've got photos from the Library of Congress of seminal events such as the Suffragette Parade of 1913 that caused a riot in Washington, D.C. If you want to get in on the action, stand in front of the "green screen" and get your picture snapped in a picket or parade scene.

From 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. August 23, the museum will host a wine and cheese reception to honor local women's advocates Louise Raggio, Lois Finkelman, Sandy Greyson and Veletta Lill. The event also starts a voter registration campaign in conjunction with the League of Women Voters. At noon the next day, the museum will commemorate Women's Equality Day at Dallas City Hall, then bring the celebration back to the museum at 1 p.m. for a tour, movie viewing and lunch.

So I say dig the Susan B. Anthony dollar coins from the bottom of your handbag and, while you're in there, grab your voter registration card. The under-appreciated lady on that underused coin took women's suffrage from pie in the sky to that very piece of paper.

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Leah Shafer

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