Boardman lawyer creates women’s rights mural to hang at Supreme Court
BOARDMAN — Artwork commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment is on display at the Davis Family YMCA in Boardman until the end of November.
The display gives local residents a chance to see the three-panel mural before it travels to Columbus, where it will grace the walls of the Ohio Supreme Court.
“People don’t realize, these ladies weren’t given the vote, they won it,” said local artist and senior partner of the Johnson and Johnson firm, attorney Nils Paul Johnson Jr.
Johnson, of Canfield, said he is on a commission that oversees the Supreme Court building in Columbus and that the commission wanted to improve the iconography in the building, which mostly showed the accomplishments of white men.
“When I joined the commission, I said, ‘We need to broaden the narrative,'” Johnson said.
The group decided to focus on women’s struggles and to highlight that four of the seven judges currently sitting on the Ohio Supreme Court — a majority — are women.
Johnson used the local judges as models to complete the mural. A dedication ceremony will be hosted at the Supreme Court on Thursday in Columbus with Johnson and his family present.
Panel one of the mural is a re-enactment of women demonstrating in 1912 for the right to vote, depicted in front of the Mahoning County Courthouse.
Re-enactors are 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Carol Robb; Youngstown Municipal Judge Carla Baldwin; Sharon Roncone Velasquez; Mahoning County Court, Canfield Judge Molly Johnson; 7th District Court of Appeals Judge Cheryl Waite; Darla Penza; Youngstown State University professor Katherine Garlick; Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas Juvenile Division Judge Theresa Dellick; and Kathleen Johnson.
Historical accuracy was achieved with the help of the Youngstown State University theater department that provided period costumes, and by choosing the Mahoning County Courthouse (built in 1911) as the backdrop. The phrase “Votes for Women” and the purple and gold colors are also historically accurate trademarks of the movement.
The struggle culminating in women winning the vote lasted for many decades. The first women’s rights convention was held in upstate New York in 1848. It declared men monopolized profitable employment, denied women a thorough education and thus prevented “avenues of wealth and distinction.”
Prior to the Civil War, many northern women participated in the abolition movement, and some said the growing awareness of the inequities visited on women were nurtured by that struggle. The women’s rights movement, however, was drowned out by the Civil War and the subsequent fight to pass the 14th and 15th amendments. The drive for the women’s right to vote lost momentum.
Shortly after the turn of the 19th century, the stalwart leaders of the early movement, such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, passed away and a new generation of leaders arose.
The second panel depicts a parade in 1920 in New York City celebrating the passage by Congress and ratification by the states of the 19th Amendment.
Toasting the celebrants in the lower right corner is Alice Paul, one of the most important leaders of the 20th century woman’s movement. She was a New Jersey Quaker who, while doing graduate work in England, became an active lieutenant in the Suffragette movement in the U.K. where she was repeatedly arrested, jailed and abused.
Returning to the states in 1910, she started the publication “The Suffragist” and soon organized a national protest parade in Washington, D.C. that was to take place the day before President Wilson was inaugurated in 1912. She was denied a parade permit and had to encourage the wives of senators to engage in “pillow talk” to be allowed to march.
The police in the capital were not sympathetic and assigned a mere 100 officers to control 500,000 people. When the parade began, the woman were thronged, many were abused and the mounted militia had to be called in for the parade to be completed. Tension with the police is reflected in the panel by the policeman in the lower left-hand corner clutching his cudgel.
Paul also started the “Silent Sentinels,” female protesters that held continuous vigil outside the White House, standing quietly while holding signs. More than 500 were arrested over many months, including Paul, who was jailed and force-fed when she went on a hunger strike, according to the artist.
Ohio was prominent in the fight for the woman’s vote, with many black Ohioans participating. Harriet Taylor Upton from Warren was the treasurer of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. Her home in Warren, now a historic landmark, served as the national headquarters of the group from 1903 to 1910.
The Upton House provided Johnson with research materials while he was working on the mural, he said.
FULL CIVIL RIGHTS
A third mural panel shows the result of women achieving full civil rights. Depicted are all the woman justices that have served on the Ohio Supreme Court since 1923. The first woman to serve, Florence Allen, was said to have been considered by President Harry Truman for appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Johnson said creating the panel was a challenge because he had to use historic and current photos, some of which were in black and white and many that had different lighting.
Included in the image are the current four sitting women judges with Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor shown in the center of the first row.
Staff writer Allie Vugrincic contributed to this story.