The Importance (And Challenges) of One Red Flyer

22, October 2017

Panoramas of the City features some pretty breathtaking objects that immediately capture your attention as you make your way through the exhibit. There’s a stunning dress from a Veiled Prophet queen, a carefully restored 1927 Ford Model T Fordor Sedan, and a collection of some of the most eye-catching medals and awards won by Charles Lindbergh. Yet, for me personally, none of them can top the power of a simple flyer featured in the section about the 1920 League of Women Voters rally and parade, held to celebrate passage of the 19th Amendment granting all American women the right to vote.

Portion of black-and-white panoramic photo of 1920 League of Women Voters rally and paradePortion of a panorama showing the September 13, 1920, rally and parade held by the League of Women Voters to celebrate victory in the fight for women's suffrage. Missouri Historical Society Collections.
Front of bright-red flyer noting A Woman Living Here Has Registered to VoteA reproduction of this 1920 flyer can be seen in the Panoramas of the City exhibit. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

The front of the flyer declares in bright, bold letters that “A Woman Living Here Has Registered to Vote Thereby Assuming the Responsibility of Citizenship.” Many St. Louis women put such flyers in their windows to announce that they were going to voice their opinions at the ballot box. What makes this flyer extra special is that the woman who owned it wrote down everything she did on September 13, 1920—the first day women could register to vote in the city.

She registered, of course, but she also played a game of golf and some blackjack (where she won $2.10). Her notations pull you into the life of a woman who was registering to vote for the very first time and didn't want to forget a thing about that important day. The flyer itself also pulls you into the nearby panorama because it’s a real-life object that you can see in the picture, a powerful reminder that these were real people who were rallying, registering, and voting to make their world a better place.

Despite all of this, the flyer almost didn’t make it into the exhibit.

As part of the Missouri Historical Society’s collections, the flyer is stored in a space where it’s protected from damaging light. When objects with vibrant coloring like this one are exposed to light for too long—like the full run of a nearly yearlong exhibit—the colors fade and detract from the artifacts’ historic value. Case in point: two identical buttons celebrating Charles Lindbergh’s return to St. Louis in 1927, pictured below. The one on the left still has vivid red lettering; the other is so faded you almost can’t read it anymore. At some point along the line, the button on the right was exposed to light for too long, or to light that was too intense, and the red faded away. As a result, this artifact has suffered permanent, irreversible damage.

Color photos of two buttons celebrating Charles Lindbergh's homecoming in 1927These buttons celebrating Charles Lindbergh's 1927 homecoming show how light can damage vibrant coloring in historic artifacts. Missouri Historical Society Collections.
Back of voter registration flyer featured in the Panoramas of the City exhibitThis flyer's owner detailed everything she did on September 13, 1920, including registering to vote for the first time. Missouri Historical Society Collections.

Different types of objects fade differently, based on the composition of the ink and the material it’s printed on, but we knew that if we exposed the flyer to light for too long, it would end up like the damaged Lindbergh button. However, we loved the story of the flyer and also knew that we wanted it to be a part of the exhibit. Our solution to this conundrum? We printed a careful reproduction of the flyer and placed that in the exhibit.

So although the flyer you see in Panoramas of the City isn’t an original, by displaying a historically accurate reproduction of that original, we've simultaneously ensured that every visitor can learn the flyer’s story and protected that story for future generations.

—Adam Kloppe, Public Historian

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