Nearly 100 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, granting women the right to vote – a right they hadn’t been able to exercise since at least 1807, by which time every state constitution denied even limited suffrage.
To celebrate the centennial of that milestone, a new mural titled “Suffrage” by artist Heidi Pitre on the back of the Firestone Auto Care building – adjacent to the Thirsty Hippo on McLeod street in Hattiesburg – was unveiled during a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday evening. Set against a yellow background, the oil painting mural depicts a woman holding a grocery list in one hand and a voter registration application in the other.
“Due to little or no support, let alone limited transportation, many women were not able to exercise this right,” Pitre said. “This painting is inspired by voting and women in the mid-1960s.
“By supporting and empowering each other, groups of women began setting up voter registration tables in places men did not frequent, such as grocery stores and department stores. Here I portray a housewife innocently heading to the store with her grocery list in hand, but ready to change history by applying for her voter registration.”
While working on the mural – which was commissioned by the Hattiesburg Alliance for Public Art – Pitre was discussing the project with her mechanic at Firestone, who told her his grandfather would not take his grandmother to get her voter registration card. The grandmother did get her application at the grocery store, but on election day, her husband would hide her car keys to prevent her from making it to the polls.
“So (my mechanic) sort of verified the story that I heard through the grapevine, and that’s what inspired the entire painting,” Pitre said. “I’m very proud that you guys invited me here, and thank you so much for allowing me to create this piece. I hope you all enjoy it for years to come.”
The mural also features a section honoring 37 women from Hattiesburg and Forrest County who have held public office over the years, whose persistence and hard work helped create a more just community for all residents. Some of the names on the plaque include but are not limited to Evelyn Gandy, Deborah Delgado, Betsy Rowell, Mary Dryden, Gwen Wilks and Mary Lee Holmes.
“We wanted to include a feature that would make the mural even more special, that could serve the purpose of teaching history and cultivating future community leaders,” Mayor Toby Barker said. “So we dedicated the mural to the women of Hattiesburg and Forrest County who are part of fighting for the right to vote.
“Some fought this battle over a hundred years ago, culminating in the 19th Amendment. Some, however, had to keep fighting, fighting this battle in the Civil Rights Movement, only to be assured of their right to vote during the past several decades. It was important to recognize those women who came before us, to remember those who blazed the trail for women today.”
Several community members and businesses contributed supplies and equipment for the project, including Chad and Catherine Edmonson, Firestone, John Lee, James Moore and Taylor Rental.
“Suffrage” is the fourth mural commissioned by HAPA this year – and the third overall completed by Pitre, along with one at Moore’s Bike Shop and another at Grove Transit.
“I just feel the energy behind me, with all these amazing female leaders who have held public office,” said Marlo Dorsey, executive director of Visit Hattiesburg. “And when we look at the mural behind us, it certainly is quite inspiring.”
The other three HAPA murals commissioned this year include “Hattiesburg, the Birthplace of Rock & Roll” at T-Bones Records & Café, “Wonderful Day” across from the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County, and “Let it Go” at Sunflower on Hardy Street.