Long-awaited Suffragist Exhibit opens to the public at the West Sonoma County Museum

By Laura Hagar Rush, Townsy Sebastopol , April 25, 2021

On opening day: Volunteer Lisa Pierce, Curator Mary Dodgion, Museum Director Donna Pittman, and Don Madronich, a visitor who volunteered to become a new docent.

The West County Museum was all set to open their Suffragist Exhibit in March 2020, when the world shut down for more than a year for COVID-19. Like everything else, the museum closed its doors, and for the past year, the exhibit has stood draped and unvisited behind the museum’s stone walls, perfectly preserved, like sleeping beauty’s castle.

Last weekend, the drapes came off and the doors opened, and the museum welcomed its first physical visitors to the Suffragist Exhibit, which was curated by longtime museum volunteer Mary Dodgion.

“We had quite a few people here last weekend,” said museum director Donna Pittman, a former history teacher who was working as a docent on Sunday, April 25, the second weekend of the exhibit.

The Suffragist exhibit features the stories of major national figures in the fight for women’s suffrage, as well as the stories of local activists. The museum’s central room is decorated in the white, yellow, and purple banners of the suffragist movement. There is a special case featuring historical suffragist momentos collected by amateur historian and former city councilperson Michael Carnacchi, who collects historical ephemera. The exhibit also has a section dedicated to African American suffragists, a group that was pivotal in the movement early on, but were marginalized by many white suffragists, who argued for racial reasons that it was unfair that black men got the vote before white women.

Pittman said the celebration of the 100th Anniversary year of the 19th amendment, which recognized women’s right to vote, will last until August 26, when the exhibit will close. Over the intervening months, she said the museum plans to have a series of small events to bring attention to the exhibit.

Like many west county institutions, the museum is struggling with a dearth of volunteers because most of their usual volunteers are retirees.

“It’s kind of a soft opening,” she said, “because it’s all volunteer-based. Some of our volunteers are a little bit more comfortable with interaction with the public, and some aren’t.”

So they’re making do as best they can with limited staff.

But she’s thrilled to be open at last. It’s a step toward normalcy.

Pittman said she was especially grateful for the twenty 19th Amendment banners that the city donated to the museum for fundraising purposes.

“I’m going to buy one and hang it from our flagpole every August 26,” she said, unfurling one of the banners.

Although you can now go to the exhibit in person, Pittman also suggests listening to the short film that Mary Dodgion made about the exhibit at home before you come.  “It really brings it to life,” she said.

See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA59W_nh700