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Stamford women memorialized in new history exhibit

October 1, 2018

STAMFORD — Through wedding gowns, pillbox hats, suffragette banners and voter rolls, the Stamford History Center endeavors to weave together the tale of the city’s women in an exhibition opened this week, “Fabric of Stamford.”

Whole rooms focus on aspects of the lives of city women since the Civil War using the center’s extensive textile inventory to highlight how they lived and worked. Among the most prized pieces is the stained yellow “Votes for Women” banner once carried by city suffragettes seeking the all-important right.

With days before opening, the banner found a perfect mate — Stamford voter rolls from soon after the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. The rolls, bound in worn black leather, are on loan to the center from the city and have their own unlikely province, pulled from stacks far from any sort of display.

City clerk Lyda Ruijter said the volumes sat for decades in the old Haig Avenue police station-turned makeshift archive of records dating to colonial times. She pulled them for the exhibition and noticed an odd system city officials then used: women and men were kept in separate volumes.

Historian Ron Marcus, cataloging the new additions, said he had no idea why that was or whether it was an avenue for disenfranchisement.

He speculated that it was because officials took a while to grow accustomed to female votes. It appears the rolls began to contain both genders soon after World War II.

Feet from where Marcus penciled diligently, dresses and cloche hats from the era stood on display, no worse for a century in the closet and seemingly ready for a jaunt or the Charleston.

The prevalence of flapper gear betrays the true expanse of the collection, which includes an ivory-handled parasol from before the Civil War and military nursing attire from the turn of the last century.

“We have such a fabulous collection and we wanted to look at it through a woman’s lens,” said Marshall Millsap, chairman of the Stamford History Center.

One room seeks to highlight the home life of city women with large bureau’s and old dolls. Children’s wear from the early 1900s is on display including intricate outfits for play and pictures. One formal getup, a boy’s skirt and jacket, dates to the 1890s. A nearby christening coat, of cotton and satin, is from 1914.

In another room, old Yale locks and Blickensderfer typewriters — both manufactured in the South End — showcase the work life of Stamford’s women. Nearby skis and swimming attire highlight their leisurely pursuits.

One must wonder how they enjoyed the Long Island Sound. A red bathing suit from the industrial era is cumbersome, made of heavy wool.

barry.lytton@stamfordadvocate.com; 203-964-2263; @bglytton

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