"You Have to Start a Thing"

Opening Mar. 6, 2020

The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution and a century of voting rights for women. "You Have to Start a Thing"  explores how Tar Heel women and men fought for—and against—woman suffrage in the decades leading up to 1920. It also chronicles the ongoing struggle to ensure voting rights for North Carolinians of color and the (slow) entry of women into positions of political power in our state.

“I’ve really enjoyed working on “You Have to Start a Thing,” says exhibit curator, RaeLana Poteat. “One of my favorite aspects has been ‘rediscovering’ North Carolina “Suffs” and “Antis” who fought on both sides of the suffrage debate. So many of these women and their contributions have faded from our collective memory. Having the opportunity to tell their stories has been very rewarding.”

Visitors to the exhibition can learn about the national movement for woman suffrage and will find out how the campaign for suffrage was different in North Carolina than in other areas. They also can see the faces of the North Carolinians who stood up for the cause.

The exhibit offers museumgoers the chance to experience the suffrage debate by watching life-size videos of actors portraying suffragists and antisuffragists. They can listen to the words and opinions of real people, taken from actual speeches, letters, newspaper articles, and propaganda circulating in North Carolina between the 1890s and 1920.

Visitors also can spin a wheel of enfranchisement to find out whether they would have been able to vote at various points in North Carolina’s past. And what’s an exhibit about voting without a voting interactive? In “Have a Say—Vote Today!” visitors can express their opinions by voting on potential constitutional amendments.

Visitors to the exhibit can learn about the national movement for woman suffrage and will find out how the campaign for suffrage was different in North Carolina than in other areas. They can also see the faces of the North Carolinians who stood up for the cause.

“I think visitors may be surprised by the complexities inherent in the arguments both for and against woman suffrage and will notice parallels to issues our country still wrestles with today," Poteat adds. 


Discover more about this exhibit and it’s place in women’s history with our upcoming free LIVE! streaming program:

Women Making History in North Carolina
Tuesday, March 3, 2020
10:15–11:15 a.m.

Watch LIVE! as we discover two exhibits at the North Carolina Museum of History which recognize the contributions of many “unknown” women from our past. We’ll travel through QuiltSpeak, which shares women’s voices and stories through the quilts they made, with curator Diana Bell-Kite, as well as “You Have To Start A Thing,” which explores the fight to secure women’s right to vote in the Tar Heel State—during the battle before the 19th Amendment, and the ongoing struggle to ensure the voting rights for North Carolinians of color—with curator RaeLana Poteat. Sponsored by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

Register here!