Collecting Political Items

Once proper facilities are available, the National Women’s History Museum will become a collecting institution. Material culture serves as a tangible reminder of women’s active participation in historical events. The banners carried in the suffrage marches remind the visitor that women fought for the right to vote. Equipment used by female scientists, tools used by women to gather and prepare food, journals kept by women, clothing – both made and worn, the archives of women’s organizations whose work has transformed society, and countless other artifacts bring history to life. Without proper storage and care, these objects will be lost. The material culture serves as a physical testament to the critical roles women have played in building the society in which we live.

About the Author

Ronnie Lapinsky Sax is a collector of political items specifically associated with women’s suffrage and women’s political issues. She has contributed the following essay to communicate the importance of saving these important links to our past.

PRESERVING THE PROOF

The American Political Items Collectors (APIC) is a 50-year old not-for-profit member organization dedicated to the preservation of political artifacts. Collecting political Americana is an “all-American” hobby, and consequently our membership is very diverse. We are collectors, teachers, historians, antique dealers, and others who are interested in the historical significance of memorabilia from political issues and campaigns. To keep members informed and to further our mission, APIC publishes a historical magazine, The Keynoter, and participates in the newspaper publication The Bandwagon.

APIC is organized with 7 U.S. regions representing 24 geographically dispersed chapters. There are also 20 specialty chapters for collectors with similar interests, such as Lincoln, FDR, Carter, Reagan, etc. We have a continuous calendar of regional meetings and host a national convention every 2 years. We are recognized in the local community as members who display their collectibles in schools and at other events. I have found APIC to be an extraordinary arena for those  looking to be a part of the age-old hobby of political collecting. Unlike many organizations, which are homogeneous by nature, APIC members span all ages and all backgrounds and are joined by the common thread of history.

WOMEN’S HISTORY

I represent the Women’s Suffrage and Political Issues Chapter, WSAPIC, a chapter dedicated to collecting artifacts that depict women’s historical memorabilia. We collect the buttons, badges, ribbons, pennants, broadsides, and three-dimensional items manufactured for the purpose of espousing a particular issue. These might include a “Votes For Women” banner from 1915, a Women’s Farm Camp or Women’s Liberty
Loan button from the 40′s, a 1970′s “ERA Now” item or even a button manufactured last month addressing upcoming Roe vs. Wade decisions. Some of our interests include suffrage, Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and the Woman’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), women’s involvement in war, NOW, the ERA movement, Title IX, women in the labor force, as well as many other issues.

The WSAPIC has a publication of its own as well. The Clarion is a quarterly expose of articles and imagery from women’s issues, old and new. We address both the pro and con sides of issues (not having any political bias in our collecting) because it is the history of these items that tells the story first hand. We look to understand the motivations of influential women ranging from Susan B. Anthony to Sally Ride. We also seek to research others who are lesser known, but important. Currently, we are in the midst of cataloguing ERA items. Thus far, we’ve identified almost 600 different buttons that use the words “ERA”. This is not taking into account other ERA related materials that were used to promote women’s issues in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. We hope to do the same for suffrage material in the future. It is interesting to note that there is always more material produced for the side of the argument looking for change, than by those who wish to maintain current policy. For example, when reviewing both suffrage and ERA material, it is easy to see that the pro-ERA faction and the pro-votes for women groups manufactured much more material than the anti-suffrage and conservative Stop-ERA camps.

My personal collection, consisting of thousands of items, spans the issues of women decade by decade from the late 1890′s to the present. This labor of love has led me to become an APIC national board member and a chapter president. I have had the pleasure of exhibiting my material from time to time and use it constantly as a first hand source for research. Although my position as a 1st V.P. Financial Consultant with Smith Barney for 26 years keeps me busy, I admit to spending much of my free time writing and researching various aspects of this fascinating hobby. I find it equally imperative to emphasize the importance of keeping this historical material, safely and intact, even if as collectors we only keep these materials temporarily.

We recognize that the memorabilia we collect has intrinsic historical value. Scholars need to study this sort of material culture to fully understand the culture of political movements. As collectors, we have the obligation to those brave, enthusiastic, and dedicated women of the past to open our collections to researchers and the public. We need to study the movements from which we collect so that we can recognize and understand the context in which these items were created. We applaud the women associated with the NWHM, and we look forward to the day when the NWHM has a permanent home in which to display the artifacts of our past.

If you are a collector, have interest in this area, or wish additional information regarding the American Political Items Collectors, you can contact Ronnie Lapinsky Sax by email: r.lapinskysax@smithbarney.com

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