100% of this purchase goes to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), learn more about them here.
Between the 1890s and 1920s, Americans expressed their political, social, and cultural views with pins and buttons, affixed to their hats and shirts. That time period is marked by huge cultural shifts and a more widespread consciousness of inequality, racism, misogyny, classism, and suffering the United States. This consciousness was the result of trailblazing efforts by men and women from all walks of life and backgrounds. While Progressive Era is often associated with white Americans and paternalistic movements, there were just as many people of color fighting the injustices of the day through art, demonstrations, and literature, laying the groundwork for the freedoms we enjoy now. These pins celebrate the heroes often overlooked in the history books, and bring awareness to the historical efforts for change. We’ll be adding more pins in the future.
All proceeds go directly to the ACLU to support all those fighting for progressive causes today.
Below are short biographies of some of these important figure:
Frances E. Watkins-Harper (1825 – 1911)
Visionary, Artistic, Astute
Feminist, abolitionist, suffragist, and writer born in Baltimore, Frances was a progressive activist through and through, and one of the first African American women to be published in the United States with her short story Two Offers. Tackling intersectional feminism before it was called such, her story critiqued the institution of marriage and freedom for women of differing classes. During a speech at the Women’s Rights Convention of 1866, she called on white women to begin including others in their pursuit of suffrage, cautioning if not
“…society cannot trample on the weakest and feeblest of its members without receiving the curse in its own soul.”
In 1858, she challenged segregation of Philadelphia’s trolleys by refusing to leave the whites-only section in a segregated car. The conductor rejected her fare after she refused to leave, which led her to throw money at his feet. By the 1890s, she had been involved in several suffrage collectives, but knew an organization needed to be developed for black women. At this point, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs (NACWC), that used the motto “Lifting as we climb,“ and became its 3rd Vice President.
A revolutionary artist and poet at heart, Frances made her living publishing short stories, collections of poems, and through public speaking, making her a household name by the late 19th century. She lived at 10th & Bainbridge in Philadelphia for the second half of her life, where her home still exists today.
Ida B. Wells (1862 – 1931)
Analytical, Persuasive, Authentic
Ida B. Wells was an investigative journalist committed to Truth: uncovering and fighting racially motivated violence and segregation in spite of threats and violence against her. Born into slavery in Mississippi, released after the Emancipation Proclamation, who came of age during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, Ida was acutely aware of the political promises for and lived realities of fellow black Americans. Though she made her living as a school teacher and lecturer, she tirelessly investigated, exhaustively researched, and boldly published accounts of lynching in the United States after the Civil War. She started a nationwide anti-lynching campaign using editorials, pamphlets, and impassioned speeches. In retaliation, a white mob set her newspaper office and presses on fire.
In 1891, she was dismissed from her teaching post due to her articles that criticized conditions of the black segregated schools in the region. That certainly did not stop her continued efforts, which saw her spreading her message and co-founding the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
During World War I, the U.S. government placed her under surveillance, labeling her a “dangerous race agitator.” Ida B Wells was one of the most famous black women at the turn of the century, representing a gallant, gutsy, and brainy hero for all those committed to the Truth.
Scott Joplin (1868 – 1917)
Distinctive, Cultivated, Revered
Named the King of Ragtime, Scott Joplin was the definitive ragtime composer of the early 20th century, laying the groundwork for the subsequent big band and jazz revolution. His big success came with the Maple Leaf Rag in 1899, which sold over a million copies and became the archetypical rag, revered and modeled by ragtime composers throughout the 20th century. Unafraid to experiment, he also penned two operas, which transcended his beloved ragtime genre, and included other musical styles. Though one is now lost, according to sources at the time, both operas dramatised black experiences in America, and responded to the tumultuous political and cultural events unfolding at the turn of the century.
Aida Overton Walker (1880 – 1914)
Uncompromising, Renowned, Funny
Born on Valentine’s Day in 1880, Aida Overton Walker was the leading African-American performance artist at the turn of the century, beloved and revered internationally for her choreography, dance, and comedy. Her & her husband worked alongside each other for some time, both performing in and creating shows together. After his death, she took over his acts, performing his scenes in drag. Dubbed the “Cakewalk Queen” Aida was first and foremost a Vaudeville star who worked in a variety of mediums with all-black casts, refusing to play stereotyped characters that were common in popular Minstrel shows of the time. A 1903 performance at Buckingham Palace made her an international star, broadening her popularity, which led to her being the first African American to perform at Carnegie Hall. Aida hoped to promote a new generation black performers, free of the demeaning stereotypes of the previous decades. In 1913 and 1914 she produced shows for troupes such as the Porto Rico Girls and the Happy Girls to show black women as original and creative talent.
Komako Kimura (1887 – 1980)
Defiant, Worldly, Independent
Born and raised in Japan, Komako Kimura was an outspoken feminist, actor, theatre manager, and zine writer who gained notoriety throughout the early 1900s. Komoko loved the stage, claiming it was one of the few ways women could flourish in a male-dominated society. She performed in over 500 plays, from traditional Japanese to Shakespearen and used her fame to spread her suffrage and feminist ideals. With this goal, she initially wrote articles for socialist journals, but soon moved on to creating her own magazine The New True Women, where she discussed political and cultural rights, women’s education, and birth control. To accompany her magazine she created a lecture series, her first speech being titled “Love and Self-Realization for Women.”
After three years the Japanese government suppressed The New True Women, and barred Komako from lecturing in public. In response, she wrote and acted as the lead in a play entitled “Ignorance.” As expected, the Japanese government requested she shut the production down. Instead, she made all of the performances at her private theater free. She acted as her own defense in her subsequent arrest and trial, which acted as a platform to spread her message–much to the chagrin of the Japanese government.
Soon after, Komako moved to the United States and settled down with her husband. She participated in U.S. based suffrage efforts, including a suffrage march wearing full traditional Japanese dress, with the aim of achieving universal suffrage for all.
Tye Leung Schulze (1887 – 1972)
Principled, Humanistic, Civic-Minded
Tye Leung was a civil rights and community activist born in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1887. She was sold into marriage as a teenager, but ran away to a Presbyterian Mission. Soon, Tye Leung became their translator and interpreter in court as the Mission worked to free Chinese women from sex slavery. Recognizing the importance of language interpretation in immigrant communities, Leung took a civic service exam, and became the first Chinese American to pass and occupy a government job as an immigration officer and translator at Angel Island. Even after leaving that job, she continued providing translation services in the Chinatown community, becoming a local leader in the process. In 1912, she became the first Chinese American woman to cast a ballot in the United States. In an interview, she makes the case for women’s participation in civic society.
“My first vote? – Oh, yes, I thought long over that. I studied…I think it right we should all try to learn, not vote blindly, since we have been given this right to say which man we think is the greatest…I think too that we women are more careful than the men. We want to do our whole duty more. I do not think it is just the newness that makes us like that. It is a conscience.”
Once introduced to California in the 1930s, pinball machines became a hobby of Leung, who became locally known as a “wizard” of the games. In her later years, she was arrested for allegedly driving women to abortion clinics. In December 1948, after an investigation and trial, the charges against her were dropped.
Jovita Idár (1885 – 1946)
Advocative, Bookish, Collaborative