October 23, 2017
Robert Reid, Against the Sky, 1911, oil on canvas, 32 3/16 x 26 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Dr. and Mrs. Donald W. Walls, 1981.
On this date in 1915, more than 25,000 women marched on 5th Avenue in New York City, demanding universal suffrage. While women in some states had already won their right to vote, it would take five more years before the 19th Amendment guaranteed the vote for all citizens, regardless of gender.
Working nine years before the 19th Amendment, Robert Reid was certainly not thinking of suffrage when he painted this beautiful woman. Still, idealized images of young women like this were taken as optimistic representations of America. In this predominantly red, white, and blue painting, the woman is seen from below, as if she is standing on a pedestal. In the early 20th century, the ‘American Girl,’ portrayed as tall, statuesque, healthy, and physically active, was a symbol of the vibrant young nation. While we celebrate the beauty of Reid’s painting, we also celebrate that it was not many years before women came down of the pedestal and headed to the voting booth.