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These Photos Offer a Glimpse Into the Racial Politics of the 1950s South

Smithsonian Magazine
Before he became a sports photographer, John G. Zimmerman captured a past that feels all too present

Tension on the Wall

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum
The use of common, mundane materials creates a contemporary rendering of a traditional pattern in this wallpaper. “Barbed Wire” creates a window pane plaid design by the crossing of wires at right angles. The plaid design, a common wallpaper motif with collection examples dating back to the early nineteenth century, has been interpreted in a...

Graffiti in Space

Smithsonian Science

So it looks like landing on the moon wasn’t the only thing the crew were doing inside the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia in July […]

The post Graffiti in Space appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

Greek Wild Flowers: Dialogues and Diplomats on the Parthenon and the Athenian Acropolis in the nineteenth century

Smithsonian Libraries

This post was written by Dr. Alexander Nagel, Research Associate with the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Anthropology.   In the fall semester of 2015, I was teaching a course on *Classical Heritage in Washington: Encounters in the Museum* for students from the University of Maryland. Every Friday afternoon around 2pm, students would more »

The post Greek Wild Flowers: Dialogues and Diplomats on the Parthenon and the Athenian Acropolis in the nineteenth century appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Mind (and Body) Bending Photos Pay Homage to Yoga's Classical Lineage

Smithsonian Magazine
Photographer Michael O'Neill spent a decade documenting the practice that saved his life

How Zildjian Cymbals Made It From the Ottoman Empire to Now

Smithsonian Magazine
In 1622, Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian metalworker in Turkey, melted a top-secret combination of metals to create the perfect cymbal, still in use today

Obscure Objects: Ruth Law’s World War I Liberty Bonds Leaflet

National Air and Space Museum

No one could say Ruth Law was a novice. She had been flying since 1912. She was the first woman to fly at night, in a biplane purchased from Orville Wright. She was the first woman to make a living as a professional pilot, ferrying guests to and from the Clarendon Hotel near Daytona, Florida,   ...Continue Reading

The post Obscure Objects: Ruth Law’s World War I Liberty Bonds Leaflet appeared first on AirSpace.

5 examples of rebellious women's workwear throughout history, inspired by objects from our collection

National Museum of American History

Go to college, get a job, lose your style. Is that how this works? I am grateful for my college education and internship at the National Museum of American History, but the world of professional wear in Washington, D.C., poses some unprecedented challenges for me, a 23-year-old with holes in her stockings and a closet full of short skirts and pink.

I turn to history to navigate this dilemma. In the American Enterprise exhibition located in the Mars Hall of American Business, I came across a section featuring The Woman's Dress for Success Book written by a man named John T. Molloy in 1977. Molloy, whose previous work Dress for Success was tailored to white masculine notions of "successful" appearances, researched businesswomen's clothing and respective levels of "success" in their fields. Throughout the guide, he advises women to dress as simply, modestly, and sophisticatedly as possible, and encourages women to "adopt a business uniform" with "a skirted suit and blouse," much like the one above.

Photo of gray woman's suit. Consists of a skirt, a jacket, and a blouse. Skirt has a slight flare.

Molloy harks that in the workplace women must avoid low necklines, midi-length dresses and skirts, bright colors and patterns, boots, handbags, and long hair.

And he insists that African American women must dress most conservatively (blandly) of all.

Black and white portrait of an African American woman looking at camera, sitting at desk with pen and papers in front of her. Her expression is somewhat serious but friendly. She wears a ring, bracelet, and necklace. Probably an office setting.

Oh, okay.

Interestingly, Molloy emphasizes that his study is rooted in scientific data. In his mind, Molloy is only the messenger, claiming that he hopes to help women elevate themselves in the workplace. ("Women, pick yourselves up by your bra straps!" I imagine him barking into a megaphone.)

To be fair, Molloy's book was successful. Published during a time of recession, it hit the market as more women went to work. At the same time, mainstream second-wave feminism was focusing on equal rights at work. So many women must have willingly traded their favorite polka-dot sweaters for professional gains that would propel their careers.

Nevertheless, Molloy's book highlights very real expectations of women to appear and behave simultaneously professional, sexually attractive, and submissive in male-dominated workplaces. His guidelines also bring up questions of popular imaginings of what a "successful woman" looks like.

It seems that not all female-identifying people who excelled at their jobs adhered to these codes, however, as some of our museum objects appear to indicate. Of course, we don't know how these outfits were worn, whether in workplaces or other spaces, and we can't get inside the wearers' heads to understand what messages they intended to send with their attire. But I love exploring clothing of the past and its possible messages.

1. Men's suits

Gray suit with tie

Molloy cautions women away from what he calls the "imitation man look." Women throughout history from actress Sarah Bernhardt to artist Frida Kahlo have worn menswear, thus unsettling mainstream ideas of femininity, masculinity, and acceptable appearance.

2. Creative colors

Orange dress with many white and orange ruffles on sleeves and at lower skirt.

Molloy outlines in excruciating detail the dangers of bright colors and bold patterns in the ensemble of a woman striving for success. While he's not talking about performers here, he might think differently after meeting people working in creative fields, such as Celia Cruz in her Cuban rumba dress.

3. Announcing a protest

Black and white photo of two women looking at camera. Large hats. They wear sashes/signs that says "Picket ladies tailors strikes." Street scene.

Under the umbrella of "working women" exist the women who work in factories, often withstanding (and protesting) countless violations of their rights, to produce clothes for middle and upper-class women. The garment worker women pictured below dared to wrap themselves in materials announcing to the world their opposition to inhumane working conditions.

4. Identity expression

Photo of woman's headwrap on a mannequin. Headwrap has green flowers and neutral background.

Dominant notions of professional appearances assume all workers not only have equal access to certain types of clothing, but also have similar body types and ways of expressing themselves and their intersecting identities. This object is only an example of the infinite ways people have expressed their complicated identities through the clothes they wear to work. Workplaces that acknowledge various modes of expression make work a safer and more comfortable space for all.

Photo of four buttons supporting Harvey Milk, three of which include a portrait of him.

5. Choosing comfort

Photo of white overalls splattered with paint

Stiff suits and pantyhose can constrict bodies and stifle comfort, focus, and creativity at work. Renowned painter and muralist Judith Baca chose comfort and flexibility over conformity.

Kathryn Anastasi is a graduate of Macalester College and a Hagan Broadening Access intern for the National Museum of American History. She is focusing on improving the accessibility of diverse and intersectional women's history resources to the public.

Author(s): 
Intern Kathryn Anastasi
Posted Date: 
Thursday, March 10, 2016 - 10:00

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This Woman Was Picasso, Hemingway and Fitzgerald's Muse

Smithsonian Magazine
The wealth and candid charisma of Sara Murphy meant she inspired and was admired by many an artist in 1920s Paris

Theorists Propose a New Method to Probe the Beginning of the Universe

Smithsonian Science

How did the universe begin? And what came before the Big Bang? Cosmologists have asked these questions ever since discovering that our universe is expanding. […]

The post Theorists Propose a New Method to Probe the Beginning of the Universe appeared first on Smithsonian Insider.

One for the money: a library internship in Numismatics

Smithsonian Libraries

This post was written by Katrin Richter, intern at the National Museum of American History Library through the Whitworth Smithsonian Internship Program.  Are you interested in learning more about interning with Smithsonian Libraries? Visit our Internships and Fellowships page and explore our Summer 2016 opportunities. Applications close April 1st, 2016. During my three weeks in January more »

The post One for the money: a library internship in Numismatics appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

A pair of dueling rifles reveal their story

National Museum of American History

Recently, CBS Sunday Morning went behind the scenes in our firearms collection to learn about the history of firearms in the United States. Intern Casey Inks shares two intriguing objects that you may not have seen on the show.

When I learned that I was selected for an internship working with the National Firearms Collection at the National Museum of American History, I was ecstatic. My family taught me gun safety at a young age and I enjoyed participating in clay target sports as part of the Hillsdale College Shotgun Team. Throughout my years as a competitive shooter I had seen many beautiful guns, but I knew that working with the National Firearms Collection would bring many more before my eyes.

While working with the collection in the secured storage area known internally as the "Gun Vault," I came across two rifles that grabbed my attention. When I learned that the two guns had been used in a duel between two Congressmen—Representative Jonathan Cilley of Maine and Representative William Graves of Kentucky—I was shocked. I immediately wanted to learn more.

Photo of rifle

Photo of rifle

The rifle used by Cilley is a percussion rifle, made by Tryon of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The rifle is .38 caliber and features a 35.5-inch-long, octagonal barrel. My favorite part of the rifle is the tiger-striped maple stock. The stock's glossy look makes the different tones of the wood pop. In the stock is a patch box, which is a small vessel that holds a piece of cloth used to load the rifle. The silver patch box cover of Cilley's rifle displays intricate, floral etchings. Similar designs decorate the rifle's lock assembly. The overall look is one of elegance.

Photo of part of gun

Photo of part of rifle

The rifle used by Graves, which he had borrowed, is also a stunning percussion rifle made in Pennsylvania; however, this one was made by Henry Deringer. Although better known for his pistols, Deringer also built fine rifles. This .44 caliber rifle features a full stock, reaching to the end of the 45-inch-long octagonal barrel. Much like Cilley's rifle, the Deringer's stock is rich maple. Though the wood is slightly lighter in color than Cilley's, the tiger stripes are just as visually attractive. The copper patch box features ornate etchings. A small, oval silver plate on the other side of the stock shows an etching of a running deer. I enjoyed admiring the rifles' elegance but imagine they'd be a bit unwieldy to use in a duel!

Photo of part of rifle

Photo of part of rifle

Black and white illustration of man


Black and white illustration of man

Cilley and Graves had no known prior grievances, but in February 1838 the two congressmen's courses collided. Their dispute began with an article in the New York Courier and Enquirer, which accused an unnamed senator of corruption. When James Watson Webb, the editor of the newspaper, faced questions regarding the article, he supported the authenticity of the claims and suggested Congress investigate. Cilley became involved by openly denouncing the credibility of the claim; his remarks were published on February 12, 1838. On February 21, Webb publicly took offense to Cilley's remarks.

So how did Graves get involved? He was acting as Webb's correspondent.

Black and white comic-style illustration of a man in a hat with two long sticks in his hands and a turkey behind him.

During the next few days, Graves tried to deliver a note from Webb to Cilley, but Cilley did not accept. That's where the dispute between the two congressmen began. Although Cilley confirmed that he meant no disrespect to Graves, he neither confirmed nor denied anything in regard to Webb's character. Graves interpreted Cilley's actions as an attack on his own honor and on Webb's character. Although dueling served as a common method of settling disputes in the early 19th century, the institution had recently come under scrutiny, presumably due to the number of worthy men lost in duels. Despite the recent aversion, many men still believed in physically defending their honor. Graves, being one of these men, proceeded to challenge Cilley to a duel.

Each congressman named his dueling seconds, those who would act as mediators in making arrangements and during the coming duel. George W. Jones of Wisconsin was Cilley's second. Henry A. Wise of Virginia was Graves's second. Together, Jones and Wise hashed out the details. Cilley, Jones indicated, wished to use rifles rather than the more common choice of pistols. Graves, supposedly inexperienced with rifles, did not even own one, and he had to borrow one from John Rives—the grandfather of the man who donated the gun to the museum!

Black and white photo, outdoors. Grassy field and short tree/bushes.

On February 24, 1838, the two congressmen and their entourages arrived at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds. As recollected by one spectator, Cilley and Graves took their places, and on the count of three fired their first shots. Both missed their targets. Despite the hopes of the two men's friends that the duel would end there, they proceeded to the next round. After the second round, a spectator noted that Graves moved like he had been shot. But when asked why, Graves simply said that the rifle had gone off before he was even ready. The duelers were once again urged to end the confrontation there, but both wished to continue into a third round. Both shots rang out, and Cilley's hand reached for his thigh—Graves had hit his mark. Cilley staggered and sunk to the ground. On the field, surrounded by his friends, Cilley took his last breath.

Learning the story of Cilley and Graves gave me a new appreciation for the history of the rifles. We often admire the appearance of objects before knowing their stories, when it is the awareness of both that often makes them so fascinating. That is what is great about museums, though. They encourage you to look beyond the physical objects and learn the stories they tell. 

Casey Inks was a Division of Armed Forces History intern at the National Museum of American History. She studies History at Hillsdale College in Michigan and is participated in her school's Washington-Hillsdale Internship Program.

Author(s): 
Intern Casey Inks
Posted Date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016 - 11:15
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Filmmaking and our National Parks: Q&A with writer and director David Vassar

National Museum of American History

To commemorate the centennial of the National Park Service, the museum will join with the Environmental Film Festival to present a film retrospective of award-winning writer and director David Vassar. The museum's curator for environmental history, Jeffrey K. Stine, recently asked Vassar about his filmmaking career and his work in the National Parks.

Color photo of waterfalls cascading down rocky mountains with greenery around.

Stine: What first interested you in becoming a filmmaker?

Vassar: I was born into a "Hollywood" family, raised by my single mom who worked in the Music Department at 20th Century Fox. My grade school was about a mile from the studio, and I rode my bike onto the lot from the time I was 10 years old. I visited sets and sound stages and was able to observe film production from a very young age. For a short time I worked as an extra and bit player in movies and television—long enough to realize that filmmaking was what I wanted to do and that working behind the camera was a lot more fun than acting.

Photo of man (mostly silhouette) leaping into the air, arms raised, with a mountain peak in background. Snow visible on peak.

Did any of your early work prove influential?

When I was 19, I made a documentary in Yosemite National Park that won a student film festival. The Park Service caught wind of the film, and I ended up working in Yosemite for three summers presenting evening programs (1971–73). With the help of a dozen volunteers we created the "Yosemite Light Brigade," running evening programs seven nights a week. Our target audience was the young urban visitor who knew little about nature or national parks. With a dozen film and slide projectors, acoustic music, spoken word, stand-up comedy, full-moon walks, and campfire talks on transcendentalism, we introduced Yosemite's wonders to as many as 600 young people on a busy weekend night.

Color photo of an outdoor scene. A man in hat, backpack, and long sleeves holds a notebook while observing the trees, mountains, and colorful brush.

Why did you continue making films about America's national parks?

After my experience as an interpretive ranger in Yosemite, I was truly hooked. National parks protect the country's most superlative natural areas. The opportunity to couple that with my passion for filmmaking became my life's work.

In my park films I try to tell stories that go beyond majestic scenery, but the landscape is always the central character and the place from which the story emerges. The scenery is the "hook," for sure, but the stories that parks hold are equally dramatic. The founding and establishment of nearly every park is almost always a dramatic conflict of greed versus altruism.

Historic sites mark the turning points of American and global history. Name a story that holds more drama than John Brown's raid at Harpers Ferry or creating a new nation at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. So, national parks protect the most superlative landscapes and preserve the greatest historic moments.

Photo of two people in a small yellow raft, wearing life preservers. They are on the water among very high-walled rock cannons.

What do you hope people will learn from your films?

For many, it may seem that the idea of making a film about Yosemite that will play in Yosemite is something of an oxymoron. If you went to the Cairo Museum to see the life mask of King Tut, arguably the most recognizable human icon on earth, it might seem a waste of time to duck into the gallery theater to see a movie about the life mask, when the actual object is a few feet away.

When we were envisioning the park film for Yosemite—Spirit of Yosemite—we joked that after the houselights went down a single line of white text should appear on the dark screen and simply declare: "It's outside, stupid!"

The fact is that if you can expand the imagination of visitors and provide them with a window into the complexity of natural processes and human history, as well as illuminate the fact that many of these places hold a spiritual and emotional dimension, then they will begin to appreciate the place on a deeper level.

My ultimate goal is to spark a heartfelt relationship between the visitor and the park. Ideally, you want them to walk out of the theater with a fuller understanding of how natural forces coalesced to create an extraordinary place. And an appreciation of how a group of visionary individuals experienced the same wonder and were inspired to set them aside as national parks to be left "unimpaired" for future generations.

Photo of a person skiing, back to camera, wearing blue jacket. Surrounding her are snowy mountains and trees.

What are you working on now?

My current project is a documentary feature about the deserts of California, Nevada, and Arizona entitled Conspiracy of Extremes.

The film is a love song for one of the most forlorn and misunderstood regions in the world. It is a scientific and cultural exploration of the deserts of the American Southwest. Rather than a worthless wasteland, the desert will be portrayed as a wonderland teeming with remarkable life. This grand desert is among the last and largest places where one can still experience unbroken vistas, wildness, silence, and solitude. It is a place we risk losing, a place worthy of preserving, a place we must care for and fight to protect.

Vassar's wide-ranging films have featured several National Parks, including Yosemite, Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and Grand Canyon, as well as California's state parks and many other environmental topics. Since becoming a charter participant in the Environmental Film Festival in 1993, the museum has explored the environmental dimensions of the American experience through the screening of nearly 100 films. Join us on Saturday, March 19, 2016, to see Environmental Film Festival films at the museum. Jeffrey K. Stine is curator in the Division of Medicine and Science.

Posted Date: 
Monday, March 14, 2016 - 10:45

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Spiral: Discussing the Role of African American Artists in the Civil Rights Movement

Smithsonian Libraries

  We are always finding great materials in our Art and Artists Files at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library and we’re excited it to share it with the public. In our mission to provide greater access to our ephemera files, we are working on adding our corporate files to the Art and Artist more »

The post Spiral: Discussing the Role of African American Artists in the Civil Rights Movement appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

Meet Native America: Ken St. Marks, Chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation

National Museum of the American Indian
The museum's interview series Meet Native America invites tribal leaders to introduce themselves and say a little about their lives and work. This week, meet Ken St. Marks, chairman of the Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy's Indian Reservation.

Remembering Test Pilot Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown

National Air and Space Museum

A Tribute to British Royal Navy officer and experimental test pilot Captain Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown (27 January 1919 – 21 February 2016) I met Eric Brown in April 2013 at the Royal Air Force Club in Piccadilly, London. Enthusiastically, he had agreed to this meeting to answer my research questions. The first thing I   ...Continue Reading

The post Remembering Test Pilot Eric Melrose “Winkle” Brown appeared first on AirSpace.

Resurrecting the Floodplain

Smithsonian Environmental Research Center
by Kristen Minogue In the forests of Edgewater, Md., a stream called Muddy Creek is sinking. By itself this is hardly news. The Chesapeake’s ailing streams span thousands of miles, and the watershed’s states have devoted hundreds of millions of dollars towards trying to restore them. It’s part of a gargantuan effort to clean up […]

3D Scans of Inka Stonework—Live Online at SI X 3D

National Museum of the American Indian
Digital 3D offers Smithsonian researchers new ways to study museum objects and historic and archaeological sites. Now Smithsonian X 3D is making 3D images, tools for viewing, and downloadable data available to everyone online.

General Pershing's Mexican Expedition to capture Pancho Villa predates his World War I career

National Museum of American History

The small American town of Columbus, New Mexico, was the site of a major event 100 years ago today. On March 9, 1916, spurred by events in the Mexican Revolution, General Francisco "Pancho" Villa's forces attacked the camp of the 13th Cavalry Regiment. In reaction to this attack, President Woodrow Wilson appointed General John Pershing as commander of a U.S. Army expeditionary force that was to capture Villa and police the U.S.-Mexico border. Called the Punitive Expedition at the time, this was just the beginning of a lengthy search for Villa that never resulted in his capture, now known as the Mexican Expedition. It took place March 14, 1916, to February 7, 1917.

Why did Villa attack? It's complicated, but here's a quick summary. The Mexican Revolution was an uprising that impacted the social, economic, and political life of both Mexico and the United States. The United States had become heavily invested in Mexican mining, railroads, and oil operations and protected these investments through military and political interventions in Mexico. In support of their people, Mexican revolutionary leaders sought land reforms and the nationalization of these operations. At one time, President Wilson supported Villa and then later withdrew support. Angered by the reversal, Villa attacked.

Brochure for "Mexican National R.R." with symbol of lion and eagles, US and Mexican flags, and fancy scrolls and design elements. "Solid Trains."

According to an article in Prologue magazine, published by the U.S. National Archives, "Why Villa chose Columbus as a target for his most daring raid is unclear. The small town had only one hotel, a few stores, some adobe houses, and a population of 350 Americans and Mexicans." His Villistas had made other attacks, for example assassinating U.S. citizens aboard a Mexican train, but it was the Columbus attack that moved President Wilson to take military action.

For the anniversary of this event, we'd like to share some objects from the museum's collection that relate to the Mexican Expedition and the Mexican Revolution.

Cover of rectangular, black/grey album. Text in gold: "Troop A 1st Ohio Cavalry Mexican Border Service July 4, 1916-March 1st 1917"

Black and white photo of many white camp tents among mountain landscape with trees. Men stand among them in groups.

Dozens of soldiers on horseback stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder. Mountains visible in background. Desert sand.
 
Soldier in uniform on a horse. Black and white photo. In distance, a few more soldiers on horses. Desert sand.
General John Pershing is better known for his leadership during World War I, but the authors of this post find the part of Pershing's military career spent in Mexico very interesting. Pershing's command was closest to Columbus, New Mexico, when the attack happened. His forces were to include "two columns that included infantry, cavalry, field artillery, engineers, the First Aero Squadron with eight airplanes, field hospitals, wagon and ambulance companies, and signal detachments," according to the article in Prologue magazine. Photos in the collection of the Library of Congress include shots of American soldiers preparing to depart on "scouting expeditions" by plane, baking bread in "field kitchens," and posing on motorcycles.
 
Photo of brown, tall boots. Thin laces. White identification tag.
 
Photo of khaki colored coat. Closes down the center with five gold/brown buttons. Four pockets on front, each closed with a button. Collared.
Color photo of a circular medal. Ribbon is green, yellow, and blue. Medal shows a cactus-like plant and dates 1911-1917.

On February 5, 1917, the expedition officially ended. Though Villa was never captured, General Pershing's men were exposed to military training. The author of the Prologue magazine article points out that "Many of the same men who served with Pershing in Mexico accompanied him to France."

After General Pershing's forces left, the Mexican Revolution continued. Between 500,000 and one million Mexicans fled the violence and turmoil of the revolution and immigrated to the United States in search of work and safe living conditions. Decades later, in the 1960s, revolutionary leaders such as Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa became inspiring symbols in struggles for social equality and political rights for many Mexican Americans.

Erin Blasco is an education specialist in the New Media Department. Magdalena Mieri is director of the Program in Latino History and Culture and Special Initiatives. Patri O’Gan and L. Stephen Velasquez contributed to this post. Patri O'Gan is project assistant in the Division of Armed Forces History. L. Stephen Velasquez is associate curator in the Division of Home and Community Life. Learn more about the Mexican Revolution from Edsitement and the Library of Congress
Posted Date: 
Wednesday, March 9, 2016 - 10:00
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Georges Méliès and his Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination

Smithsonian Libraries

Born in 1861 in Paris, Georges Méliès started his artistic endeavors as a child. By the age of ten,  he was building his own stage sets for marionette shows and drawing caricatures of his teachers. Méliès continued his artistic and theatrical pursuits, including studying magic, despite his father wanting him to work solely in the family more »

The post Georges Méliès and his Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

How to Modernize the Wood Stove and Help Save the Planet

Smithsonian Magazine
The humble wood stove is getting a high-tech makeover, and may be going green

They marched with torches: Getting out the vote, 1840–1900

National Museum of American History

During the 19th century, politics were central to social life, to the point where affiliation with a political party included actual parties—the kind with drinking and dancing. For many young people, politics was the best way to be seen and interact with people their own age, even if they were too young to vote. As we dive into election season, I spoke with Associate Curator and Jefferson Fellow Jon Grinspan about this phenomenon.

Grinspan's work deals with the primary sources that relate to young people during the 19th century. These sources range from slave narratives to letters between fiancés. They provide the modern reader with personal interactions involving politics, an answer to the "why?" of how 80% of the country came to the polls in the mid-19th century.

Chart showing turnout of eligible voters from 1800s-200s. Turnout was highest before 1900.

The voter numbers between 1832 and 1896 rarely dip below 70%, a number that modern voters barely scratch these days. There was evidence that voting mattered: around 1,000 voters decided the presidential election in 1884, for example. Even people who were just under the legal voting age were deeply involved in the political process, and that’s where Grinspan focuses his research. Generally, these political participants were young men.

Black and white illustration showing six young men wearing matching hats and uniforms (which include very draped capes and long sleeves and pants) and marching in the street with signs that say "Lincoln Hamilton" "Honest Old Abe" and "Wide Awake." One holds an american flag. One holds what appears to be a sword.

This photograph of a Republican club in Detroit contains the best markers of political engagement of the time: matching uniforms, lanterns, and a readiness to march for their party. The uniforms, stern expressions, and lanterns suggests a kind of militarism that can be found in the multitude of clubs springing up all around the United States during the time of the Civil War.

Black and white photo of seven men. Each carries a lander with a circular handle and wears a matching hat and cape-like uniform in shiny fabric. They face the camera.

The Wide Awakes were one of the most well-known clubs and their militarism is obvious. A pro-Lincoln club for young men numbering in the hundreds of thousands, they wore dark uniforms and proclaimed themselves to always be watching. The group was created by two men, a 22-year-old zealot for the cause and a uniform maker who sold 20,000 Wide Awake uniforms during the same period.

Today, wearing a uniform for a political party probably seems laughable. But imagine seeing hundreds of young men march down boulevards with lit torches on Election Day—it must have been a powerful sight.

Black and white illustration. Four men on a balcony peer down to watch a massive parade taking place on the street below. Tall buildings and fireworks in the background. Hundreds of people march in orderly formation holding signs and flags that are not clearly readable from this angle. Many more people watch the parade. They march past a park and what appears to be a tent or bandstand.

Color photo of illuminated torches, about eight of them. Variety of shapes: eagles, top hat, lantern, dinner pail.

So what drove upwards of 80% of American voters to the polls in the mid-19th century? In addition to caring about the issues, they probably also desired to be a part of a political party, an active part of the American republican machine. Marching, carrying torches, lighting bonfires, and making a show of political force was just as important, if not more important, than getting to the polls.

Illustration in red ink of man (from shoulders up) holding a torch with smoke billowing out of it.

Today, the issues surrounding elections captivate most more than the idea of marching in the street, as cities such as San Francisco as well as Takoma Park, Maryland, and Hyattsville, Maryland, lower their voting ages to 16. But the desire to be part of the democratic process—in some way, even if it doesn't involve flambeaus—still remains.

Thomas Plank is an intern in the Office of Education and Public Engagement and a senior at Stanford University studying American Studies. Jon Grinspan’s book The Virgin Vote will be available soon.

Author(s): 
Thomas Plank
Posted Date: 
Monday, February 29, 2016 - 11:45
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Inventing Underwater Training for Walking in Space

National Air and Space Museum

Training underwater for extravehicular activity (EVA)—popularly known as spacewalking—is now critical for preparing astronauts to work in weightlessness. But when cosmonauts and astronauts first ventured outside their spacecraft 50 years ago, in 1965 and 1966, they had no such training. Spacewalking did not appear difficult, nor did space program officials think that underwater work was needed.   ...Continue Reading

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Upcoming events in March

Smithsonian Libraries

Mark your calendars! The Smithsonian Libraries invites you join us for two free events in March related to our current exhibitions:   Fantastic Voyages of the Cinematic Imagination Georges Méliès Film Screening and Lecture by Matthew Solomon Thursday, March 3rd, 2016 at 5:30pm Warner Bros Theater National Museum of American History 12th St and Constitution more »

The post Upcoming events in March appeared first on Smithsonian Libraries Unbound.

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