On July 3, 1919, Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which would eventually give women the right to vote when it was fully ratified the next year.
Just more than 100 years later, the Cole County Historical Society held an event to celebrate the anniversary of the 19th Amendment as part of a nationwide, collaborative art project.
Her Flag is the brain-child of Oklahoma-based artist Marilyn Artus. The project incorporates a stripe from each of the 36 states that ratified the amendment into a large version of the American flag. Each stripe is designed by a female artist from that state.
The end result will be an 18-by-26-foot flag with 36 stripes, with a starfield designed by Artus which displays a "Votes For Women" button and 36 white stars.
Artus was inspired by the suffrage movement, and knew she couldn't let the anniversary go by without doing something to commemorate it.
"I picked up a book years ago about the suffrage era and just fell in love with it," Artus said. "I fell in love with the stories. I fell in love with the women, the adversity, the tenacity it took, the fact that it was men, women, Republican, Democrat, black, white — everybody was in the mix."
Starting in June, Artus has been traveling the country to visit the capital city of each state that ratified the amendment. At each event, Artus will sew the stripe onto the in-progress flag while discussing the project with those in attendance.
Monday's event was Artus' 11th stop as part of her 14-month trip, because Missouri was the 11th state to ratify the amendment on July 3, 1919. Her journey began June 8, in Madison, Wisconsin, and will conclude on the anniversary of ratification — Aug. 18, 2020 — in Nashville, Tennessee.
In total, Artus will travel more than 50,000 miles over 17 separate trips.
Missouri's artist was Rori de Rien, a St. Louis-based illustrator whose work focuses on the power of symbols and narrative.
"I tried to think of the breadth of the general struggle for Missouri women that goes back to Native women to the working women who were struggling for not just the right to vote but for economic survival, and then bring that into present day," Rien said.
Her stripe represents the long struggle for equal rights of women in Missouri. The stripe, made in shades of pink, portrays notable suffragists from Missouri. Starting with Native American women on the far left, the stripe moves through the years to end with modern day women and the continued struggle for equality.
In between are key figures in Missouri's history — Kate Richards O'Hare, who was imprisoned for her anti-war views during World War I; Harriet Robinson Scott, a former slave who fought for her freedom alongside her husband, Dred Scott; and Edna Gellhorn, who organized a famous voter registration rally in St. Louis known as the Golden Lane, which Rien represents with pops of yellow parasols across the stripe.
However, Rien didn't want to only focus on those well-known figures. The stripe includes many other women to fill in the gaps.
"I filled in with lots of other women, because for every woman's name we know, there's hundreds of women who were there in the struggle, and we'll never know their names, but they were still there, and I still wanted to recognize them," Rien said.
Across the middle, the stripe reads "Show Me Voting Rights," a play on Missouri's nickname.
The Golden Lane was organized by the League of Women Voters in 1920 on the first day women could sign up to vote.
At Monday's event, as Artus' sewing machine whirred in the background, current president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, Evelyn Maddox, told the attendees about some of the suffrage struggles in America. Women were imprisoned, separated from their families and even force-fed when they attempted hunger strikes.
"Women, we really owe thousands and thousands of women for our right to vote," Maddox said. "I just get chills thinking about what these women went through."
Maddox and vice-president of the group Marilyn McLeod shared the message of not taking votes for granted as they stood at each end of the stripe to display it.
"Never take your vote for granted — men and women," McLeod said. "One vote can make the difference. Always remember that every vote counts."
Artus hopes to have the flag displayed on the side of a building in Washington, D.C., at the time of the 2020 presidential election. Then, the flag will be available as part of a traveling Her Flag exhibit set up by the Mid-America Arts Alliance.