Crow Wing County Historical Society lights up for women’s suffrage

The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum and Research Library will light up the exterior of its downtown Brainerd building from dusk Wednesday, Aug. 26, to dawn Thursday, Aug. 27, to commemorate the women’s suffrage centennial as part of the national campaign Forward Into Light in which monuments around the country will light up in the official suffrage colors of purple and gold.

The Crow Wing County Historical Society Museum is located at 320 Laurel St. in Brainerd. Frank Lee / Brainerd Dispatch

Women did not always have the right to vote in the United States, and that is something the Crow Wing County Historical Society would like to highlight figuratively and literally.

The Brainerd-based museum will participate in a national campaign called Forward Into Light in which monuments nationwide will light up in the official suffrage colors, purple and gold.

“I feel it is important, especially during this time of political turmoil, for young women voters to realize voting is a privilege and one our female ancestors fought hard for,” said Hillary Swanson, executive director of the society.

Women's rights activist Susan B. Anthony, for example, was fined in 1872 for voting illegally. The women's suffrage movement was a decadeslong fight to win the right to vote for women in America.


New York pickets at the White House on Jan. 26, 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution’s 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote. On Sept. 8, 1919, Minnesota became the 15th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, and Forward Into Light commemorates the historical event.

“This just seems like a great opportunity to be able to participate in something. It’s so hard at the moment to do any kind of celebration, so just the symbolic lighting was something that was kind of easy to accomplish and something we can do while the museum is still closed,” Swanson said.

The Crow Wing County Historical Society will light up the exterior of the museum building starting at dusk Wednesday, Aug. 26, until the dawn of the next day.

“It’s actually just very simple, two light bulbs: one gold, one purple — mostly because of budget constrictions that’s about all we could do,” Swanson said. “I just hoped perhaps people would drive by and think ‘Oh, I wonder what that’s all about?’ and perhaps look into it.”

Pennsylvania on the picket line in 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

August is National Women’s Suffrage Month. The Forward Into Light campaign was named in honor of the historic suffrage slogan, “Forward through the Darkness, Forward into Light.”


“We will be lighting the building along with other buildings and landmarks around the country, and it will just bring us together with those other places to recognize the right of women to vote,” Swanson said.

The three-story building adjacent to the County Historic Courthouse is owned and maintained by the county. It once housed the county jail and sheriff’s home. But the museum has been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic and will remain closed indefinitely.

“Unfortunately, the way our building is laid out, it’s nearly impossible to do any kind of social distancing or directional type of tours,” Swanson said.

A New York contingent of women picketing in all sorts of weather on Jan. 26, 1917. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The museum exhibits include ones related to lumber, railroad, farming, mining and education, while the library includes thousands of photographs, microfilms, books and historical documents and is more than 100 years old.

“Because we’re so limited on staff and aren’t able to have volunteers at the moment, we just can’t keep up with the need for sanitization and things like that,” Swanson said of the building closure.

According to The Forward Into Light campaign, the White House, National Archives, Smithsonian Museums, Library of Congress, the Kennedy Center and more will also illuminate their structures to honor the women who “lobbied, marched, picketed and protested for the right to the ballot and never gave up on the fight for equality.”


And starting Wednesday, Snapchatters can use augmented reality lenses to apply a purple and gold gradient to their surroundings and add their photos to a digital mosaic of suffragists inspired by the “Our Story: Portraits of Change” mosaic by artist Helen Marshall.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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