"Who was the first woman in your family to vote?" A National Art and Storytelling exhibition is now live
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"Who was the first woman in your family to vote?" A National Art and Storytelling exhibition is now live
My Aunt by Alfredo Duncan.

NEW YORK, NY.- Women Leading the Way is an online exhibition featuring essays and posters created by over 300 high school students from across America and honoring the extraordinary women who fought for suffrage as well as the female family members who were the first to exercise that inalienable right.

Organized by Mireille Miller, art teacher at Lycée Français de New York, the project showcases the work of thirty schools in seventeen states, and begins by challenging students to delve into the history of the fight for suffrage and then to answer a simple question: “Who was the first woman in your family to vote?”

Women Leading the Way boasts a rich collage of intimate family stories and essays about suffrage heroines, enhanced by artistic renderings. It was to culminate this Spring in an extensive exhibition at Sotheby’s New York. The event was postponed in light of the current epidemic but a virtual exhibition now bears witness to the varied experiences and achievements of hundreds of enthusiastic and committed teenagers.

In these divisive and uncertain times, Women Leading the Way seeks to foster unity and a greater sense of community through the perceptions of high school students regarding the historic triumph of women’s enfranchisement and their own family’s remarkable achievements. The exhibition itself is a colorful and entertaining example of America’s great melting pot, and that out of so many we have emerged as one into a constantly evolving and self-correcting democracy.

Many students, for the first time, have come to know intimately their antecedents not just as relatives but as admirable humans with their own aspirations, ideals and dreams. They have discovered, often to their surprise, the many sacrifices these women had made on behalf of the family. It is an up close and personal lesson in civics and the preciousness of voting which they say they would never take for granted again. Rebecca Tabor of Columbus, Georgia, writes: “Researching incredible, influential women such as suffragist Ida B. Wells-Barnett as well as my great-great-grandmother, Nora Grisham, I have gained new respect for those women before me and an appreciation for my current freedoms as a woman in America.”

Says David Hickey of Stony Brook High School, “Not only were the students inspired in learning about the sacrifices and work of these suffragist icons but also were similarly moved by reflecting on the lives and models of their own mothers and grandmothers.”

Jaycee Sledge of the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, writes of the experience of her great-grandmother, Naomi Louise Ford: “Like many black people, my grandmother faced harsh discrimination and when it came to voting, it wasn’t much different. She made sure to use her vote in a way that would benefit her and her family, voting for black people in office and voting for certain laws to be passed.”

Ricky Rubio, a tenth grader at Garcia Early College High School in Laredo, Texas shares that when he asked his mother, Karen Picasso, for her emotional response to casting her first vote in 2004, she responded with one word: “Pride.”

And Jackson Norbutas of Camarillo, California, whose great-grandmother was born into a family of Louisiana sharecroppers, writes, “My favorite part of the essay was talking to elders in my family about what they had to go through. I could tell they loved to have their story told. Learning about the struggles of women and also the struggles of the world helped me broaden my picture of how connected our planet is.”

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