In this last week of March 2006 and National Women's History month, I'm remembering 1975. That was the year the General Assembly of the United Nations proclaimed as International Women's Year (IWY).

In the United States at that time there was an ongoing effort to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The Congress voted to finance IWY conferences in each state which would conclude with delegates attending a huge convention in Houston in 1977. Internationally it began as a year but ended as the "Decade of our Destiny," 1975-85.

Each state had a coordinating committee which met regularly to discuss issues that should be covered in Houston. I was chosen to head a small staff to work for the Michigan group to keep records, plan meetings, control the budget and prepare for a two-day state meeting where an election would be held to choose delegates to travel to Houston.

On our arrival in Houston, each state was given a display area to show what had been accomplished over the months of preparation. Most of my time was spent at the booth and one day a woman from the Smithsonian Institution came by. She was Edith Mayo, curator in Political History in the National Museum of American History, and she asked me to send a box of Michigan articles to her.

Back in Michigan there was much work to close the books and bring the busy months to an end. Finally it was done but I had been so immersed in women's history I realized I had one question unanswered. Although I knew the early suffragists used white, gold and purple in their banners I wondered why those colors were chosen.

In 1977 I wrote Edith Mayo asking why. That gracious woman responded with two full single-spaced pages of well researched explanation. Those three colors were first used by the more militant wing of the suffrage movement, the National Woman's Party, started by Alice Paul. However, the less militant National American Woman Suffrage Association under Carrie Chapman Gatt was probably more directly responsible for the passage of suffrage, but the Alice Paul group was located in Washington, D.C. and received all the media attention. The modern feminist movement is more akin to the Gatt group and they used the purple, white and gold colors.

From the third quarter of the 19th century the traditional colors of the American suffrage movement had been blue and gold. Alice Paul spent time in England working with the suffrage movement and their colors were purple, white and green. When she returned and formed her organization she was aware that the Carrie Chapman Gatt group already in existence used gold as their main color.

Ms. Mayo said, "It is my educated guess that purple, white and gold were chosen as a blending of militant English suffrage colors with the traditional America suffrage color of yellow."

It was interesting to learn that as far back as the mid-1890s the international peace movement used these colors as a tri-color in their Peace Flag. Those living in that era were very aware of the meanings of flowers and colors but they were defined exactly in describing why they were chosen in this case.

"Yellow, because this is the color of active love, of energy... of creative force, all attributes of sunlight, ripeness and plenty. Purple, because this is the color of triumph achieved through constancy, self-sacrifice and perseverance, which are feminine or maternal qualities. White, because this is the color of innocence and purity, attributes of the young and inexperienced."

Edith Mayo, now curator emerita, ended that 1977 letter, "You now have probably more than you ever wanted to know — and are sorry you asked!" To the contrary, my understanding of a time long past was enriched.

• • •

Dorothy Copus Brush is a Fairfield Glade resident and Crossville Chronicle staffwriter whose column is published each Wednesday. She may be reached at ebrush@frontiernet.net.

Trending Video