We’ve Only Just Begun: 100 Years of Skidmore Women in Politics

In the 100 years since America’s women earned the right to vote, Skidmore, its alumnae, and the world, have undergone enormous transformations. Throughout this period of great political, economic, technological, and social change, strong continuities can be discerned in the way Skidmore women have thought about and engaged in politics.

Three bright through lines mark the path of this exhibition. The first is Skidmore College’s strong commitment to fostering women as citizens of their campus community, their local and national community, and the world. The second is the diversity of the “women of Skidmore” and the increasing heterogeneity of that group over time in terms of racial self-identification, class, religious affiliation, geographic origin, and sexual orientation.

And third is Skidmore women’s lively interest in and engagement with politics in forms that abide throughout this period, especially electoral politics, marching and other forms of protest, a commitment to a free and vigorous press as the “fourth estate” of politics, as well as an openness to new and evolving forms of political engagement, such as social media activism.

—Katherine Graney and Natalie Taylor

Exhibition Name
We’ve Only Just Begun: 100 Years of Skidmore Women in Politics
Exhibition Type
Faculty Curated
Group Exhibitions
Place
Winter Gallery Online
Dates
Sep 17, 2020 - Jun 6, 2021
Curators
We’ve Only Just Begun: 100 Years of Skidmore Women in Politics is organized by Katherine Graney, Professor of Political Science, Skidmore College; Natalie Taylor, Associate Professor of Political Science, Skidmore College; Rachel Seligman, Assistant Director for Curatorial Affairs and Malloy Curator; and the students of the Spring 2020 Political Science class “Never Done,” in particular Clare McInerney ’20 and Nicollet Laframboise ’20.
Student Staff
Jane cole 2019
Jane Cole
2019-20 Carole Marchand Endowed Intern, Student Advisory Council, past: Exhibitions and Collections Assistant, Gallery Monitor Associate
Geraldine santoso web
Geraldine Santoso
2020-21 Carole Marchand Endowed Intern
A light skinned man with dark hair stands smiles at the camera. Trees and greenery are visible in the background.
Nathan Bloom
2020-21 Eleanor Linder Winter Endowed Intern, Student Advisory Council, past: Design Assistant, Summer Volunteer

Suffrage

Skidmore College grew out of Lucy Skidmore Scribner’s desire to address some of the social and political problems facing America (and America’s women) as the country industrialized during the early twentieth century. Modeled on the “settlement houses” established in poorer neighborhoods of large cities, Lucy Scribner founded the Young Women’s Industrial Club in 1903. Although Saratoga Springs did not have the same problems as larger, more urban cities, the resort town – which boasted a racetrack and casino – had the potential to compromise women’s respectability. Lucy founded the Club “to help little girls and young women to become self-supporting, and to provide a social center for them.” The YWIC was open to all women, including the African-American women of Saratoga Springs, as well as the Native American women, who lived in the city during the winter.

As Skidmore continued its move toward becoming a college, Skidmore women joined the national debate over women’s suffrage. Throughout the nineteenth century the struggle for women’s suffrage was characterized by debates and political jockeying surrounding race, class, and nationality. Saratoga Springs had been an important place for women’s rights activism from the beginning of the independent woman’s suffrage movement. Even Susan B. Anthony made a stop here. As these struggles entered the twentieth century Skidmore women became important actors in the successful passage of women’s suffrage in New York in 1917 and the nineteenth amendment to the United States Constitution in 1920. Skidmore women from the administration, faculty, and student body, all participated in the suffrage movement in various ways, as did some Skidmore men, including President Charles Keyes.

—Katherine Graney and Natalie Taylor

A black and white photograph depicts a light-skinned middle-aged woman a long white dress sitting in a rocking chair in front of several large sunlit windows.
Lucy Skidmore Scribner at her home on North Broadway, n.d., black and white photograph, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
Lucy Skidmore Scribner

Lucy Scribner noticed that women were coming from beyond Saratoga Springs to take advantage of the Young Women’s Industrial Club and that “demand from outsiders seems to be for thorough instruction and not a mere smattering of everything.” Skidmore School of the Arts grew out of the YWIC and received its charter from the New York State Board of Regents in 1911. Offering courses in domestic art, domestic science, commercial business, and music, it provided education to women from other rural towns in upstate New York and prepared them to improve their communities. As American suffragists agitated and lobbied for increased political rights during the 1910s, Skidmore’s ambitions as an educational institution similarly grew, and in 1922, it won the right from New York State’s Board of Regents to offer four-year, baccalaureate degrees to its students. From this moment on, Skidmore would remain committed to offering its women the rigorous and challenging education they needed to be full-fledged citizens of their communities, their countries, and the world.

—Katherine Graney

A black and white photograph depicts an older light-skinned woman standing behind two middle-aged light-skinned men in suits shaking hands. The woman looks at the camera while the men look at each other.
Kathryn Starbuck with Skidmore Parents, 1949, black and white photograph, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
Kathryn Starbuck

Kathryn Starbuck was Skidmore’s Suffragist in Chief. Born in Saratoga Springs in 1887, Kathryn Starbuck was one of the first female graduates of Albany Law School in 1914. From 1916-1918 she was the Saratoga County Chair of the New York State Woman Suffrage Party, spearheading the successful effort to gain women the right to vote in New York State in 1917. In 1918 Starbuck ran for a New York State Assembly seat, losing to her Republican challenger but gaining more votes than the Prohibitionist or Socialist candidates. From 1921 to her retirement in 1954, Starbuck was a vital part of Skidmore life, serving as a professor, administrator, and trustee of the college. She remained politically active on behalf of women’s rights and equality her entire life.

—Katherine Graney

Campus Politics

Skidmore Women have, from the very founding of the college, been keen participants in campus politics. This engagement with political life on campus has manifested itself in many different ways over the past century, as this section details. Clear through lines are visible, even as some aspects of campus politics evolve due to technological and social evolution. These abiding forms of campus politics include: a commitment to “the fourth branch” of government, the free press, through the continual issue of a student-run newspaper, Skidmore News, beginning in 1925; a desire for self-governance, including the setting of and continual renegotiation of the rules and regulations binding on Skidmore women’s personal and public behavior, as well as a concern with the college curriculum, specifically that it be rigorous and challenging enough to prepare Skidmore women to enter the public realm, both in employment and as citizens, after graduation; and the formation of political clubs that pursued political discussions, invited important public political figures and, when deemed necessary, engaged in political activism and protest.

We also see abiding interest among Skidmore women across the decades on campus with questions of inclusion and justice, especially a desire for the student population to more closely mirror the country’s population, chiefly by increasing the number of African-American students at Skidmore, and with questions of women’s bodily autonomy and how the concerns of public and private life can and should be understood in the context of politics.

—Katherine Graney

A yellowed book opened to pages 8-9 has the headers “Christian Association” on the top left of the page and “Student Self-Government Association” in the middle of the right page.
1916-1917 Student Handbook, Skidmore School of Arts, 1916, ink on paper, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
Self Governance
From the very earliest days, Skidmore women have demanded the right to help shape, along with the College’s administration and faculty, the nature of the community that they lived in and the freedoms and responsibilities that they bear as members of that community. Skidmore women have, over the past century, been particularly concerned with using the formal mechanisms of self-governance to do two things. First, to push the college to allow students to have more autonomy over their own behaviors and actions, as befitted their status as reasoning, rights-bearing individuals; in this quest students sometimes encountered resistance from the administration, which often based its positions on gender-based expectations about “female propriety” and concerns about what the outside world might think if “Skidmore women” were allowed to behave in particular ways.
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Second, Skidmore women have consistently demanded that the college curriculum reflect the fact that for Skidmore women, the education they were receiving was crucial to securing their future status as full citizens and human beings. As such, it needed to be rigorous, preparing women to enter both the economic and political realms after graduation, should they so choose, and also reflecting the social and political issues that students consider most important to them as citizens. In demanding their rights to a full and rigorous education, Skidmore women would achieve the necessary tools for political participation and would realize the hopes of generations of feminists.

—Natalie Taylor

Show Less
A sepia photograph depicts a group of standing light-skinned young women who are smiling at the camera and positioned around the former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt seated in an armchair.
Eleanor Roosevelt with the Discussion Club, December 5, 1930, black and white photograph, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
Campus Clubs

Skidmore women have always used campus clubs as a way to debate the most important political issues of their respective eras. They have invited prestigious speakers to campus to educate and foster discussion, and have used club platforms to raise important political issues for the campus and wider community. Tracing the history of club activity by Skidmore women allows us to see how the issues considered politically important by them have evolved and expanded over time, as the personal became more political during and the after the second-wave of feminism.

—Katherine Graney

The yellowed front page of a Skidmore News issue features several articles with larger titles and small print text divided into five columns.
Skidmore News, Volume 1, Number 1, October 9, 1925, ink on paper, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
The Fourth Estate: Skidmore News

Referred to as “the Fourth Estate,” a free press is essential to democracy. Not only does a free press keep the public well informed, it checks those who hold power. In the past century the Skidmore News has covered campus concerns, as well as politics at home and abroad. Skidmore’s Fourth Estate sought – and continues to seek—to resist the College’s administrative power, to redress racial and gender imbalances of power, and to uncover the cultural power that operates upon women.

Skidmore News was founded in 1925. That year’s issues recorded the institution’s transformation from Skidmore School of Arts to Skidmore College. It’s first editor, Janet Klinghorn (Bernhard), led the students in resisting the administration’s paternalism and in demanding more rigorous academic standards.

—Natalie Taylor

Local and National Politics

From their deep engagement with the Suffrage movement at the time of the college’s founding, to their involvement in Women’s Marches and Black Lives Matters in recent years, Skidmore women have always followed, studied, reacted to, and been active participants in both the local politics in Saratoga Springs and New York State, and in national politics throughout the United States.

Over the years, Skidmore women have supported and worked on the campaigns of presidential candidates of all stripes—Democrat, Republican, Socialist, and Green Party. They have engaged issues of national prominence on campus and in town, including civil rights and racial justice, and gender justice and reproductive rights. Skidmore women have also used their Skidmore education as a platform for public service as elected officials and civil servants.

—Katherine Graney

A document bears the title “ENGLISH I” and the date “JANUARY, 1917” followed by five writing prompts printed in a typewritten font.
Exam Assignment Based on 1916 Presidential Election, from the scrapbook of Marguerite Funston, class of 1917, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
Political Engagement

Skidmore founder Lucy Scribner Skidmore and President Charles Keyes both believed that Skidmore women’s education should prepare them to be active and informed participants in American democracy. As we can see from this English exam that Marguerite Funston (Class of 1917) saved in her scrapbook, Skidmore’s faculty also wanted their students to think, read, and write about politics. What is especially interesting about this exam prompt asking students about their “presidential choice in the last election” is that none of the Skidmore women taking the exam would have actually been able to vote in the election of 1916—New York State did not adopt women suffrage until November 1917, and of course the 19th amendment was not adopted until August 1920. The inclusion of such an assignment suggests both the optimism that Skidmore’s founders and faculty had about the prospects for women suffrage and their firm belief that Skidmore women should know about, care about, and practice, politics.

—Katherine Graney

A large red pin against a white background has the words “JANET WHITMAN FOR MAYOR” printed in an off-white color.
Janet Whitman Campaign Pin, 1988, plastic, metal, paper, courtesy of Janet Lucas Whitman
Janet Whitman
Many Skidmore women have gone on to careers in national, state, and/or local politics. Janet Lucas Whitman, class of 1959, was class president her freshman year at Skidmore, and then worked as a community volunteer in her town of Summit, New Jersey, for over 26 years, holding leadership positions at the Overlook Hospital Auxiliary, the Central Presbyterian Church, the Reeves-Reed Arboretum, the Interfaith Council, the Summit Area Community Council, and more. She served on the Summit Common Council for six years, as chair of the Mayor’s Task Force on Substance Abuse, and as President of the Summit Area Women’s Republican Club. In 1988, Whitman was the first woman ever elected mayor of Summit and served two terms (1988 – 1995). Whitman also later served as Chair of the Skidmore Board of Trustees and sits on the Tang Museum Advisory Council.

International Politics

Skidmore women have always seen themselves as citizens not just of the college or the country, but of the world. Their political engagement has reached beyond campus and even national boundaries to all corners of the globe. The campus was deeply involved in the country’s mobilization for both World War One and World War Two, but also in the peace and disarmament movement of the 1930s that tried to prevent the Second World War, and Skidmore women were as profoundly torn by the Vietnam War as were other college students across the country in the 1960s.

In recent decades, Skidmore itself has become a more international place, and Skidmore women now hail from around the world. As Skidmore women have become more global, so has their political activism and impact.

—Katherine Graney

A black and white newspaper article excerpt with the headline “Skidmore Plans War Relief Work” in large font, followed by smaller text in two margins.
“Skidmore plans war relief work,” The Saratogian, March 23, 1917, ink on paper, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
World War One

Soon after the entrance of the United States into World War One, Skidmore students led the effort to establish an American Red Cross chapter in Saratoga Springs. One hundred and fifty Skidmore women signed up at the inaugural meeting in March 1917, while the Freshman class decided, by a “near unanimous vote,” to cancel its spring dance and donate the money to the new war effort.

—Katherine Graney

  The yellowed front page of the Skidmore News features several columns of small-print text with a black and white photograph of a young light-skinned woman in the bottom left page.
“Hilda Hertz Likes Skidmore, Social Sciences, and Socks,” SkidNews, October 19, 1939, ink on paper, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
World War Two

Skidmore and its women undertook a major mobilization to support the United States in the Second World War. In addition to on-campus activities, Skidmore historian Mary Lynn notes, “by the end of the war 148 members of the Skidmore community had been recognized by the college for their wartime service. Skidmore women using their undergraduate majors to serve their country included 20 army nurses, 5 navy nurses, 5 members of the army dietetic corps, and 6 army physical therapists. In addition, 24 Skidmore graduates joined the WAACs, 44 joined the WAVES, 3 joined the marines, 2 entered the coast guard’s SPARS (and acronym for Semper Paratus, Always Ready) and 24 went to work for the Red Cross.” (Mary Lynn, Make No Small Plans: A History of Skidmore College, p.171)

As Hitler’s regime threatened political dissidents and Jews across Europe, Skidmore students raised money to help one young woman come to Skidmore to finish her degree safely during the war. Hilda Hertz Golden, whose father was a Social Democratic member of the German Reichstag, graduated from Skidmore in the Class of 1942, and went on to become a sociologist and professor, winning the Skidmore Alumni Distinguished Achievement Award in 1992.

—Katherine Graney

A newspaper excerpt has a headline “Skidmore to devote four days to peace” written in large, bold font at the top.
“Skidmore to Devote Four Days to Peace,” New York Times, April 17, 1937, from the scrapbook of Jane Louise Thurwood, Class of 1939, ink on paper, courtesy of Special Collections, Scribner Library, Skidmore College
The Politics of Peace

While ready to help in their country’s war efforts when called upon, Skidmore women also have a history of actively working for peace. In the 1930s, as fascism began to gain strength in Europe, Skidmore women joined thousands of others (such as those in the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) in working for peace and against the threat of another war in Europe. In April 1937 Skidmore held a Peace Week devoted to the theme of “International Integration,” which involved both faculty and students, and was covered by the New York Times. In the 1960s Skidmore women joined their peers around the country in protesting the war in Vietnam. And in the 1980s, they protested the nuclear arms race by participating in a “die-in,” anticipating a tactic that protesters at Skidmore would also use in the 2010s to protest violence against Black Americans.

—Katherine Graney

A logo shows an organization called “EDUTRER.” The logo incorporates a graphic image of a tree, with the leaves indicated by two green circles and a smaller yellow circle inside them, and the trunk is a brown pencil.
Edutrer Logo, 2017, digital image, courtesy of Naira Abdula
Global Skidmore

In recent decades, Skidmore’s student population has transformed enormously. In 1980, only 3.5% of the Skidmore undergraduate study body self-identified as ALANA (Asian, Latinx, African-American or Native American), while in 2019 that number had risen to 25.6% (Skidmore Factbook, 2019). During that same period, the percentage of international students studying at Skidmore also increased dramatically, from 1.7% to 10.5%. Many of these Skidmore women have come to Skidmore as Davis United World College Scholars, and have gone on to continue the tradition of Skidmore women’s political engagement at new points across the globe.

Naira Abdula, Skidmore Class of 2020, a native of Beira, Mozambique, came to Skidmore as a Davis UWC Scholar. In 2017, she founded an organization called Edutrer, aimed at increasing child literacy and numeracy in Mozambique, and won a Davis Projects for Peace award that allowed Edutrer to build a community center and begin its work. In summer 2020, Naira Abdula graduated summa cum laude from Skidmore and was named the 2020 Anne T. Palamountain Scholar.

—Katherine Graney

Skidmore Women Getting It Done: Sharing Our Stories

In this section, we invite Skidmore women to share images and experiences of their involvement in politics—whether in the past or happening right now, whether by working within established systems, or through activism, service, or protest. To add your voice to the exhibition, send your contribution to rseligma@skidmore.edu and be sure to include: a high-resolution image of your photograph or ephemera, your name, class year, a title for your image, the medium (what it’s made of), the date of the image, and a sentence or two describing/explaining your contribution.

We will add new submissions periodically over the course of the exhibition. In this section, we hope to create a space where Skidmore community can share the expansive, diverse, and inspiring visual stories of Skidmore women who contribute to positive change in the world.

—Katherine Graney, Rachel Seligman, and Natalie Taylor

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