Exhibition on women’s suffrage in Wilton opens online

WILTON — Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott may be some of the universally known names when it comes to passage of the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote.

But the right for women’s suffrage was a wide-ranging campaign that touched all corners of the country, and what happened here — in Wilton — was just as important to the cause as what happened in Hartford or Washington, DC.

The Wilton Historical Society will bring into focus the activities that happened here with its online exhibition, “Citizens at Last: Hannah Ambler, Grace Schenck and the Vote,” which will open on Thursday, Sept. 10. It may be viewed online at wiltonhistorical.org.

Emerging out of a long history of women’s rights advocacy and social work in Connecticut and beyond, the women of the Wilton Equal Franchise League followed the lead of their parent organization, the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association, to introduce progressive activism to Wilton.

When Hannah Raymond Ambler and other members of the Wilton league hosted Rose Teas on Danbury Road, held a suffrage fair in Wilton Center, or sponsored speeches in town hall, they were campaigning to make their hometown a place that lived up to their ideals. Led by league founder Grace Knight Schenck, these women contributed to the eventual success of the quest for suffrage.

On Nov. 2, 1920, Hannah Raymond Ambler proudly wrote “It is my first vote” in her daily journal. This triumphant and poignant phrase, underlined for emphasis, captures the voice of just one of the women in Wilton who campaigned for suffrage.

Grace Knight Schenck, a force to be reckoned with in the community, was a leader who organized the first women’s suffrage meeting in town.

Their last names are well known in Wilton — Ambler Farm and Schenck’s Island are local landmarks — but their individual lives are not. This exhibition shines a light on Hannah, Grace and other Wilton women who became citizens at last, and whose stories are at the heart of the exhibition which joins the national recognition of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote.

“Citizens at Last” explores objects, images, texts, historic costumes, vignettes, and music to illustrate the activities and contributions of Wilton suffragists, which place Wilton’s story in state and national context. The exhibition is divided into sections, most of which are narrated videos. The sections include: Seeds of Discontent: 19th Century Activism; Organizing Sweeps the Nation; Grace Schenck: Wilton’s Yellow Rose; Hannah Ambler: Leading by Example; Grassroots Activism: Tea Rooms to the Ballot Box; Dressing for the Movement; Parades, Poems and Politics; Leave Well Enough Alone; Left Behind: Minority Women and the Vote; Citizens At Last.

This exhibition is part of Wilton’s Centennial Celebrations of the Ratification of the 19th Amendment, as well as the Connecticut 100 Suffrage Centennial program. In lieu of an exhibition entry fee, there is a suggested contribution of $10.

“Citizens at Last: Hannah Ambler, Grace Schenck and the Vote” will be available indefinitely on the Wilton Historical Society website. It received generous support from the Elizabeth Raymond Ambler Trust.