Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 September 2020 15:00
By Lois Thomson
|Greater Monessen Historical Society board member Candis Kelley, and secretary Ginny Fisfis, were among the volunteers who put together an exhibit on the women's suffrage movement in Monessen.
Last year, Ginny Fisfis, secretary of the Greater Monessen Historical Society, decided that the society should put together an exhibit on women's suffrage to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women receiving the right to vote. After she and her colleagues got underway with the plans, she said it was like "trying to put a puzzle together by reading newspapers."
Fisfis particularly called on Dan Zyglowicz, president of the Historical Society, who also works at the library at California University. "He has access to all of the old newspapers, so he did the research," she said.
The result of their efforts is an exhibit that stretches almost the entire depth of the Historical Society building, located on Donner Avenue, depicting the people and events of that time. The history began at the end of 1913, and by February 1914, a women's suffrage association had been organized. Fisfis said the Monessen group was the most active of any in the Mon Valley, and speakers came from as far away as Chicago and Colorado to address the association. "When we started, I had no idea that Monessen was a hotbed of activity that was able to attract such important people to come in."
The exhibit covers the history of the suffrage movement both in Monessen and as it traveled to the nation's capital, and features a suffrage victory flag: each time a state ratified the amendment, a star was added. Interestingly, when the amendment passed, there were approximately 4,000 women of voting age in Monessen, but only 524 voted in the next election. Why? Fisfis explained that they could only vote if they were able to pay the poll tax of 40 cents and their husband was a U.S. citizen, and it was often difficult for both of those factors to be in place.
The display includes a section on the new freedoms women received as they were able to move into respected professions that were formerly, generally, reserved for men – professions in the medical and legal fields, and politics, for example. The exhibit also has a special focus on women who are graduates of Monessen High School.
Additionally, there is a section on the 1970's NOW movement, with commemorative buttons and posters, many of which were supplied by Historical Society board member Candis Kelley, who was active in the movement. "I never throw anything away," she said.
Fisfis said a total of eight volunteers worked to put together the exhibit, which will be on display into 2021.