Assistant Professor Julia Walker will be presenting a paper this Friday, April 26, as part of the panel Agora to RiverFire: Landscapes Histories of the Public Realm at the annual meeting of the Society of Architectural Historians in Providence, RI.
Parades, Conventions, Rallies: Public Space and the Politics of Suffrage in New York State
In the United States, the turn of the twentieth century witnessed significant changes in the status of women in public space. Specific concern in this paper is the way in which women active in the suffrage movement in New York State made canny use of public space, using their new visibility in innovative ways specific both to their cause and to their time. By appearing en masse outside the private sphere, and by harnessing the power of new visual technologies like photography and film, these women inverted traditional regimes of surveillance and spatial control. Suffragists thus enacted what Jacques Rancière defines as “politics”—when “the natural order of domination is interrupted by the institution of a part of those who have no part.” For Rancière, politics is opposed to governance or rule, which he describes as “policing.” Instead, politics creates a state of indeterminacy that productively destabilizes authority. With its public squares, its streets and street walls, and its emphasis on community meeting places, I argue that the American city itself enabled this indeterminacy.
Drawing on work by scholars of gender and urbanism, this paper examines this new politics of public space. It also makes use of primary sources that have been discovered in conjunction with celebrations of the New York State suffrage centennial. Together with local and state organizations, architectural historians have been working to reveal this important history. Recent events include the city of Binghamton’s reenactment of its own significant suffrage parade and the landmarking of new sites on the “Suffrage Trail,” including the Centenary Methodist Church in Binghamton, where the state held its annual suffrage convention in 1913, and the Old Village Hall in the township of Lisle, where Florence Chauncey cast the first vote by a woman in New York State on January 5, 1918.