The story goes like this: It was 1920 and 24-year-old Tennessee state legislator Harry Burn was faced with a choice. Thirty-five of the then-48 states had ratified the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote, and just one more state was needed for passage. The question was now before an evenly split legislature, with members of the chamber showing their support for ratification by wearing yellow roses and those in opposition wearing red. Burn, sporting a red rose, was inclined to vote against the measure, but his mother had written him earlier and urged his support. When the vote was called, Burn broke ranks saying, "I knew that a mother’s advice is always safest for a boy to follow, and my mother wanted me to vote for ratification." The measure passed by one vote and the 19th Amendment became law. As Debra Yoshimura concludes in her retelling of the story, “Hurray for Harry Burn!”
It is from this story and Debra Yoshimura that we get the glass mosaic work "Do Not Disappoint Your Mother" as part of the Tortuga Gallery’s current exhibit Many Votes, Many Voices. The show is an education about the right to vote by 15 New Mexican mosaic artists. What is striking about Yoshimura’s piece is the story. It is among many works within the show that tell little-known parts of the story of women’s suffrage.
As galleries and museums search for ways to adapt to pandemic conditions, it is shows like this that serve a public education role that are at the most risk. If field trips were a possibility, I would recommend every high school civics class take a walk through the Tortuga Gallery to learn a bit about the struggle for the right to vote. The gallery has committed to keeping the exhibit online through November, though I highly recommend donning a mask and seeing the show in person. Understanding and interpreting our history through art moves beyond aesthetics, and Tortuga should be applauded for bringing this work to a public audience. With a critical vote before us this November, it is a history lesson we could all use.