Harris & Ewing, W. (1917) Pennsylvania on the Picket Line. United States Washington D.C, 1917. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress.

Women Forging the Way


Throughout 2020, the nation will commemorate the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. The 19th amendment, ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, prohibits the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens on the basis of sex.

To mark the centennial of this watershed moment in American history, the History Center is launching Women Forging the Way – an initiative focused on elevating women’s history in 2020 and beyond.

There is no shortage of history-making Pittsburgh women. Journalist Nellie Bly traveled the world in a record-breaking 72 days. Musician Mary Lou Williams introduced new audiences to the world of jazz. Activist Daisy Lampkin battled for equal rights for women and Civil Rights for all. Filmmaker Lois Weber became America’s first woman film director. Abolitionist Jane Grey Swisshelm fought against slavery and advocated for women’s rights.

The History Center will honor these women and many more through public programs, museum displays, digital storytelling, and more throughout the year.

Women Forging the Way is supported by the Quentin and Evelyn T. Cunningham Fund and the W. Paul Spencer Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Public Programs

Thursday, March 19

Breaking Barriers: “Women of Steel” Film Screening & Discussion

The Heinz History Center and the Women’s Press Club of Pittsburgh invite you to explore the changing role of women in the workforce and the power of video storytelling through excerpts from the locally produced documentary “Women of Steel,” followed by a panel discussion with local filmmakers, historians and women in skilled trades.

Learn more and register

Thursday, May 7

Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence

Marking the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence will explore the history and complexity of the national suffrage movement. Join Dr. Lisa Tetrault and Dr. Allison Lange for a conversation that brings to light underrecognized individuals and groups and examines how suffragists used portraiture to promote gender equality and challenge the popular cartoons that mocked them. The authors will also consider how photographic portraits proved to be a crucial element of women’s activism.

Learn more and register

Saturday, June 20

Cooking Up History with Ashley Rose Young

The Heinz History Center will welcome Ashley Rose Young, food historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and a member of the McGinnis family, for a special program. Dr. Young and members of the McGinnis family will lead a fascinating exploration of female entrepreneurship through the lens of family food heritage.

Registration information forthcoming.


The Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball

Billed as “the Most Democratic Fete ever attempted in Pittsburgh,” the Equal Franchise Federation held its Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball more than one hundred years ago on Nov. 10, 1916. Though its memory has long since faded, the fundraiser itself was widely attended and lived up to its tagline. The more than 3,000 attendees who gathered in East Liberty’s Motor Square Garden to “be merry under the auspices of Suffrage” included students and businessmen, working class men and women, and the prominent socialites who formed the base of the Federation.

Learn more about the Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball.

“Her Hope, His Opportunity.” An advertisement poster for the ball created by Liberty Show Print.
“Her Hope, His Opportunity.” An advertisement poster for the ball created by Liberty Show Print. Winifred Meek Morris Papers and Photographs, MSS 1103, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center. Photo by Liz Simpson.
Winifred Meek Morris served as general chairwoman of the Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball.
Winifred Meek Morris served as general chairwoman of the Suffrage Shirtwaist Ball. Winifred Meek Morris Papers and Photographs, MSS 1103, Detre Library & Archives at the History Center.

On the History Center’s Blog

Visit the History Center’s blog to learn more about women’s history in Western Pennsylvania. You’ll find some of the many stories we tell called out below, however you can visit the Women Forging the Way category for more.

We’re Collecting!

The History Center is actively looking for objects, photographs, and archival material documenting women’s history in the region to add to the museum’s collection.

To learn more about donating an object, contact Emily Ruby at 412-454-6350 or elruby@heinzhistorycenter.org.

To learn more about donating photographs or archival material, contact Carly Lough at 412-454-6367 or ctlough@heinzhistorycenter.org.

Further Research

Barbara Johnstone, Ph.D., a volunteer with the History Center, put together a research guide on women’s suffrage in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Women’s Suffrage Movement in Southwestern Pennsylvania

From the Introduction: This guide is for anyone researching the fight over women’s suffrage in Pittsburgh and elsewhere in the southwestern Pennsylvania area. It focuses on events and people connected with the pro-and anti-suffrage movements in the years leading up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment, focusing in particular on 1910 – 1920. It lists primary archival sources as well as key secondary sources. The guide is not intended to provide a complete history of the suffrage movement in this area, just to open up a few avenues for research. There is no doubt a great deal of important and interesting information about this topic that did not make it into this guide, simply because we didn’t ask the right people or the people we asked weren’t aware of what they had.

This research guide is available online.

Research Guide