WASHINGTON — Beaumont-born Lisa Kathleen Graddy is curator of one of the most popular exhibits of all 19 Smithsonian museums: The First Ladies exhibit, which includes inaugural gowns and other memorabilia.
“First Ladies Exhibit is an American pilgrimage destination,” Graddy said. “Families come just to see it. Daughters went with their mothers. Their daughters go with their daughters. And men enjoy the tradition, too.”
To complement the First Ladies exhibit, the Texas Tech graduate, who jokes that her birthplace 81 miles from Galveston gives her only “passport” privileges in Texas, has put together a debut women’s suffrage exhibit on the showcase main floor of the National Museum of American History.
“I’ve always wanted to work at the Smithsonian,” Graddy said. “I announced my goal when I was very young, and I was able to achieve my dream.”
Graddy serves as the deputy chair of NMAH’s Division of Political History.
The new exhibit, which will be ongoing, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the March 3, 1913, parade when 5,000 women, who were spat upon, hit by tomatoes, mocked and derided by about 500,000 men, many of whom were intoxicated, resolutely marched down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House, demanding that Congress approve, and just-elected President Woodrow Wilson endorse, a Constitutional amendment allowing women the right to vote.
The parade was the first civil rights parade to use the nation’s capital as a backdrop.
“I want people to remember that this suffrage event happened,” Graddy said. “Many young women don’t realize how short a time it has really been since we were granted the right to vote.
“This is a part of America’s history that hasn’t really been explained. I want this exhibit to be inspirational.”
The 30-foot-long glass case exhibit “captures the energy of the parade,” with flags, clothing, banners, handwritten eyewitness accounts, photos and other artifacts.
The National Press Club, where women were admitted to membership only in 1970 after a years-long, contentious battle, hosted a Feb. 28 event commemorating the parade’s centennial.
Life imitated art this year on March 3, as about 5,000 women, some in period attire, re-enacted the event, without tomatoes and hecklers, but in freezing, windy cold.
I spoke with fourth-grader Allie Akers and her younger sister, whose mother, Sarah, said they drove all night from Raleigh, N.C., because Allie wanted to participate in the march. Mom held their dolls while they held banners aloft.
“My history books were all about men. I asked Mom: Where are the women? So last year I started a woman’s history club,” Allie said.
Allie said her heroines are Amelia Earhart and Kari Byron.
Echoing Graddy, Allie’s mom interjected: “Allie’s grandmother was 3 years old when American women got the right to vote. That’s not that long ago.”
Allie and her mom were profiled in an April 12, 2011, feature by Stacy Chandler in the Raleigh News Observer.
Allie’s dream is that someday a woman will be portrayed in a new Smithsonian exhibit — of Presidents of the United States.