Her Flag Commemorates Suffrage Fight in Nebraska 100 years ago

Part of the "Her Flag" project in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
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October 10, 2019 - 6:45am

Next year is the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in the United States. As part of the celebration, an Oklahoma artist is traveling to each of the 36 states that voted to ratify the amendment, including Nebraska, with a giant flag. The flag is coming together, stripe by stripe.    

For artist Marilyn Artus, things are pretty simple. She’s on a road trip, this time in Lincoln at the Great Plains Museum. She has a Singer sewing machine set-up in the middle of a room and is adding another stripe to a large flag that grows at every stop. The project is called “Her Flag”.

“So I pin the stripe to the existing stripes, the stripes that are already sewn on and sew it right there, usually while there’s a performing artist doing something, because nobody wants to sit and watch me sew for 15 or 20 minutes,” Artus said.   

The flag will eventually have 36 stripes, one for each of the states that ratified the 19th Amendment.  Nebraska was the 14th state to ratify in 1919. Before the end of next August, Artus will have made 17 of these road trips.

“My studio is all over the United States for the next year instead of in Oklahoma City,” she said.  

Artist Marilyn Artus and the Her Flag project. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Artus calls herself a “suffrage nerd.” She read books about women’s rights as a child and knows the fight for voting rights started long before 1920 and extended beyond the ratification of the 19th amendment. But it was a start.

“1920 was not when all women magically got the right to vote,” Artus said. “It was largely white, wealthier women that were voting, but it’s when we got our foot in the door and it was never going to be closed on us again.”  

The inspiration for a large flag to commemorate the 19th Amendment came when Artus was a teenager and saw the flag that flew at Fort McHenry in 1814 and inspired the Star-Spangled Banner. Her Flag will be 18 feet by 26 feet when it’s complete. That’s about twice the size of a typical American flag you’d see outside a school. She hopes it reminds Nebraskans it wasn’t too long ago that women weren’t allowed to vote.

“Oftentimes we complain about where we are and I don’t think a lot of younger women realize how not that long ago, a couple of generations ago, we barely had rights,” she said. “We were barely humans. We were property.” 

Each stripe in the flag was created by a female artist from each of the 36 states. Cindy Chinn is an artist in Chester and created Nebraska’s stripe.

“One of the things, the requirements for the stripe itself was to have the state name and so I took the letters of Nebraska, and then I picked people to represent that letter, so people who were instrumental in helping the cause,” Chinn said.   

Artist Cindy Chinn of Chester, Nebraska. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)

Women like Willa Cather, Doris Stevens and Mrs. W.E. Hardy played key roles in Nebraska’s suffrage fight.    

Artus has a few more road trips before the flag is finished next year. It’s made of high-grade UV resistant fabric and she’s hoping it will end up on the outside of a building in Washington D.C. to remind people of the long fight for women’s rights.

“I would absolutely love for it to be a visual reminder of this anniversary and women and voting and thinking about where we need to be,” she said. “We need to be running for office. We need to be getting involved civically more than we are now.”   

She’s taking no sides politically with her project and it’s designed that way. In a divisive political environment, she wants this to be more about gratitude.

“The flag is really a love letter to these states that ratified it and it was men that ratified this and so oftentimes men aren’t talked about within this context of this anniversary,” she said. “Some of the states that I’m going to are very conservative and I love going in, this artist coming in and thanking them for being progressive so long ago.”

The 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote was ratified nationwide on August 18, 1920.



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