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Harvard’s Schlesinger Library Blog Post

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Suspended Beauty: A “Votes for Women” Mystery

Research for my upcoming book, Borrowing from our Foremothers: Reexamining the Women’s Movement through Material Culture, uncovered a colorful puzzle inside of Radcliffe Institute’s Schlesinger Library College Archives.

In June of 1979, the college purchased the papers of 1895 alumni Elsie Winchester Coolidge (below on the left) from Ahab Rare Books. Her papers mainly consisted of diaries and a beautiful brooch.

Elsie and Rosamond Mary Coolidge (sisters) and an unidentified woman. Watertown People Collection, Watertown Free Public Library (Watertown, Massachusetts)

While the diaries offered glib factual recollections of Coolidge’s life from 1893 to 1897, the “Votes for Women pin, 1920” beckoned with tangible promise. Cataloged as “105.1.6, carton 1, tray 1,” the brooch resided inside of a Tiffany & Co. box affixed with a typed label reading, “property of Miss Elsie W. Coolidge, Class of 1895.”

Tiffany & Co.’s company archivist pronounced the brooch as splendid but not one of their creations. It may have arrived in a Tiffany box, but the container was a red herring, a common surrogate jewelry practice.

Was the cloisonné enameled brooch actually Coolidge’s suffragist pin or did she inherit it? After investigating further, it appears Dr. Mary E. Bond Foote, a wealthy suffragette supporter of women’s rights and eugenics lecturer, willed her jewelry collection in 1924 to her spinster nieces Elsie and Rosamond Coolidge.

According to British suffragette jewelry expert Elizabeth Goring, the “Votes for Women” brooch’s purple, white, and green colors were most likely a vestige of either Britain’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) or America’s Women’s Political Union (WPU). The tricolor scheme definitely post-dated the brooch’s creation since these two organizations adopted the same colors in 1908 and 1910, respectively.

American suffragist collector Kenneth Florey concurred with the color dating and possible suffrage origin while wondering who crafted the pin’s laurel wreath motif flecked with silver globules and a hanging purple cabochon. The Museum of London’s curator Beverly Cook contended this plausibly “one-time” brooch with its suspended amethyst-colored “fancy diamond” was produced in the English jewelry tradition. The actual cut of the facet though, according to Goring, was American and furthermore, the word “Sterling” stamped on the brooch’s back indicated a foreign provenance, such as America; sterling jewelry made in Britain was generally hallmarked with a design.

Searching for more clues, I magnified the back of the pin. On the right-hand side of the metal’s quatrefoil frame, someone had shakily etched what appeared to me as “L bay” or possibly “G bay” to Goring. In Elizabeth Crawford’s recent text, Art and Suffrage: A biographical dictionary of suffrage artists, she mentioned jeweler Gladys Bayliss (“G bay”?) showing a 1911 silver and enamel Arts & Crafts style buckle at the Glasgow National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies Work Exhibition in 1913. After examining Bayliss’ work, Goring and Crawford concluded the artist’s style differentiated too much from the Schlesinger brooch. See for yourself: http://www.tademagallery.com/jewellery/d/gladys-bayliss-arts-%26-crafts-buckle/207968.

If you have more clues to this “Votes for Women” brooch mystery please contact me at aforss@mccneb.edu. It could lead to another gem in re-examining the women’s movement.


Amy Helene Forss


The Bookworm – March 10, 2018

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Come visit Amy Helene Forss at the Bookworm on Saturday, March 10, 2108 from 12 to 1 PM.  She will be signing copies of her children’s book Newspapers and Butter Pecan Ice Cream.

For more information visit The Bookworm Website

The Bookworm
Loveland Centre
2501 South 90th St. STE 111
Omaha, NE 68124

KMTV – Morning Blend

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Mildred Brown is an important figure in our city’s history. She played an important role in the civil rights movement and founded the Omaha Star. A new book brings her story to kids in several Omaha schools. It’s called Newspapers and Butter Pecan Ice Cream. We’ll meet the author and a curriculum specialist to learn more.

Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality. By Marcia Walker-McWilliams

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Reverend Addie Wyatt: Faith and the Fight for Labor, Gender, and Racial Equality. By Marcia Walker-McWilliams. Illinois Press, 2016. Pp. ix, 266, illustrations, bibliography, notes, index, Paper, $28.00.) Book Review by Amy Helene Forss in Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume 110, Number 3-4, Fall/Winter, 2017, p. 403-405.

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C-SPAN – 2015 LCV Cities Tour

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Amy Helene Forss discuss’s her book, Black Print with a White Carnation: Mildred Brown and the Omaha Star Newspaper, 1938-1989. Founded by Mildred Brown in 1938, the Omaha Star is longest-running newspaper founded by a black woman in the United States. To set her paper apart, she focused on the positive stories going on in the community as a way to uplift people.

C-SPAN’s Local Content Vehicles (LCVs) made a stop in their “2015 LCV Cities Tour” in Omaha, Nebraska, from May 7-13 to feature the history and literary life of the community. Working with the Cox Communications local affiliate, they visited literary and historic sites where local historians, authors, and civic leaders were interviewed. The history segments air on American History TV (AHTV) on C-SPAN3 and the literary events/non-fiction author segments air on BookTV on C-SPAN2.