Folded into the Archive: Racialized Textile Labours and the Work of Suffrage Memory


  • Mariah Kupfner Penn State Harrisburg


Two textiles tell a story about the changing landscape of American suffrage politics and activism at the start of the twentieth century. They reveal new space for an embrace of normatively feminine crafts, as well as the disparate ways in which Black and white activists’ labours, legacies, and heirlooms were incorporated into literal archives and suffrage memory. Nettie Asberry’s lace coat and Abigail Duniway’s hexagon quilt—both completed for national exhibitions—insisted upon the public valuation of skills that were considered domestic and nostalgically feminine. These suffragists displayed their handiwork and asserted that their political labours and public activism could exist comfortably alongside their decorative needlework. This strategy marked a change in both individual and institutional attitudes towards the relationship between textiles and politics. Duniway and Asberry’s work has been remembered and archived unevenly, however, which reveals the challenges Black women faced in their efforts to include themselves in suffrage memory.

Author Biography

Mariah Kupfner, Penn State Harrisburg

Mariah Kupfner is Assistant Professor of American Studies and Public Heritage at Penn State Harrisburg.