Lockport woman's letters to ERA author at heart of suffrage exhibit

Feb 6, 2020

A vivid picture comes to mind when we hear the phrase “Women’s Movement,” but the protests of today in Washington, D.C. had their roots in the women’s suffrage movement, a protest that lasted for decades and resulted in the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote 100 years ago.


A portrait of Alice Paul, founder of the National Womens' Party and the 1923 author of the Equal Rights Amendment is on display as part of the Kenan Center exhibit "The Art of Suffrage"
Credit WBFO Photo/Nancy Fischer Painting: Craig Thomas

And at The Kenan Center in Lockport, a new exhibit honoring woman's suffrage, has it roots in one local woman's youthful ties to someone at the center of the movement.

“When we are in middle school and high school you learn a little bit about the suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment. Most people have heard of Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848 – well there’s a lot more to it than that. It took 72 more years for women to be given the right to vote – 72 years,” said Mary Brennan Taylor, an organizer of  the Kenan Center’s Art of Suffrage exhibit.

She is sharing an extensive collection which she has amassed over the past 40 years. Her passion began soon after she began corresponding with, and then met, a living suffragist Alice Paul, the author of the Equal Rights Amendment.

The Kenan Center in Lockport honors the 100th anniversary of a woman's right to vote with the Art of Suffrage, beginning Feb. 9 and continuing through March 29 in the Kenan Center.

One of the first things visitors will see is a jail cell with a life-sized rendering of Alice Paul. (below right) . She was one of those women who was frequently jailed and nearly died on a hunger strike.

“One of things people may not realize was how barbaric the treatment of these women was; who were simply asking for the right to vote – a basic civil right. They were imprisoned, they were tortured, some died, they were force fed. All because they had the audacity to ask for the right to vote,” said Brennan Taylor.

Brennan Taylor was just 16 when she began writing to the over 90-year-old Paul. Paul died in July 1977 at age 92, but Taylor and Paul did have had a chance to meet in person, just once.

“My mom, bless her, she took time off work to drive me to Richfield, Conn., from Lockport. NY. And on our drive there, she turned to me and said, ‘Who are we going to see?’” said Brennan Taylor, laughing.

The historic Kenan House in Lockport dates back to 1913, will be a fitting backdrop for a look back into the same era as the Art Of Suffrage program

Mary Brennan Taylor with a depiction of Alice Paul in Jail, at the Kenan Center in Lockport.
Credit WBFO Photo/Nancy Fischer

“It’s important that this be at the Kenan Center, because Lockport is my hometown and the Kenan Center is a beautiful facility,” Brennan Taylor said.

She said the walls will be covered with her collection – including authentic art from the era– not framed reproductions, as well as buttons, and her personal letters from her correspondence with Miss Paul.

“This has been 44 years in the making,” said Brennan Taylor.

Kenan Executive Director Susan Przybyl called the program – empowering.

“This is one the most important and historic exhibits we have presented,” said Przybyl.

Parrish Gibbon Herzog, Kenan’s director of marketing said she hopes this exhibit will ensure that these stories are not lost to future generations.

“I hope people of all ages come to this exhibit and find inspiration and power from it,” said Herzog.

Ellen Martin from the Lockport Public Arts Council helped Brennan Taylor coordinate the 100th Anniversary event. She said the program will be multi-sensory and interactive. She said it won’t be political, but it will be a call to – get out there and vote.

Martin said if more women voted thing would be different.

“We have been given a gift by these women who have sacrificed so much and to waste it is just not right,” said Martin.

In addition to the exhibits in the Kenan House, there will also be free author talks in the Kenan Center’s Taylor Theatre at 7 p.m.  Feb. 28 with Mary Walton, the author of “A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot,” and at 4 p.m. March 7 with Tina Cassidy, who wrote “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait? Alice Paul, Woodrow Wilson and the Fight for the Right to Vote.”

Tickets for a one-woman show, “Susan B. Anthony Live,” at 7:30 p.m. March 21 in the Taylor Theatre, are available at www.kenancenter.org.

More information about the “Art of Suffrage: Struggle, Sacrifice and Success” can be found at www.theartofsuffrage.com and the Kenan Center website

After the program concludes, the exhibit will continue on temporary display at the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Museum.