Rori!, a St. Louis artist, worked with the Missouri History Museum to highlight 32 influential women in the city prior to women’s suffrage. Creating the artwork depicting taught Rori! about some women she had never heard about previously.
The walls to the entrance of “Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage,” an exhibit at the Missouri History Museum, are plastered with photos of women. These aren’t the typical selfie or portrait. They are from the World’s Fair, photos of women whose names have been lost to time. Much like these portraits, the rest of the exhibit is dedicated to women of St. Louis who have been forgotten, who had careers before suffrage.
The Missouri History Museum collaborated with St. Louis artist, Rori!, to create an exhibit highlighting 32 women who were influential in the city’s early development. “Beyond the Ballot: St. Louis and Suffrage” aims to educate others about the women’s contributions to St. Louis and women’s rights. Katie Moon, curator at the museum, said putting together the exhibit was a way to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
The women include nurses, educators, journalists and businesswomen who were influential in the development of the city. Moon said women had been helping St. Louis since its beginning, but common renditions of history do not mention many.
“There is this misconception that women weren’t really doing anything before 1920, that all of a sudden they got the vote and then they were allowed outside and allowed to have jobs,” Moon said.
The exhibit focuses on spreading knowledge of women who were successful activists before they had the right to vote.
The illustrator, Rori!, said that art is a way to educate. She said that she strives to portray the person she is illustrating as relatable.
“I try to make the subject feel present and real, not just stuck in history. When I’m drawing a subject, I like to find out as much about their personality as I can,” Rori! said.
Her dedication to the drawings came from her childhood role models, who were women in history books. Rori! stated it is important to know where you come from and that history teaches valuable lessons.
“I think history provides kind of a lifeline, to say other people have struggled like this, this is what happened, we can learn from this,” Rori! said. “We can admire the good decisions [women] made and we can learn from the bad decisions.”
Rori! added that much of her inspiration for the illustrations came from the women themselves.
“They all took their circumstances, which were very, very different, and did what they could with them,” Rori! said. “It’s just something that grounds a person, learning about what other people have faced and what they have done. It grounds me in the present and I think gives me wisdom.”
Rori! said she is a fan of history, which drew her to accept the commission from the museum. The research put into the exhibit led Rori! to people and stories she had never heard of.
“I try to dig in the corners of history, but there were a lot of subjects that I didn’t even know about, even having grown up here. There’s so much that gets glossed over and unrecognized.” Rori! said.
Rori!’s personal experience discovering influential women has contributed to the detail of the exhibit. The museum further helped make the exhibit educational by including photos and documents relating to women’s suffrage.
The exhibit will be displayed for museum visitors to see until March 2022.