The Victoria & Albert Museum, London’s wonderful compendium of art and artifacts has acquired a pink pussy hat for its collection. For the official announcement, please see: https://news.artnet.com/art-world/victoria-and-albert-museum-pussy-hat-884771. The knitted hat has come to represent the international Women’s Marches, which were held throughout the world on January 21, the day after the Trump inauguration. Originally designed by Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh as a response to Trump’s iniquitous statement of how he abused professional women. It was a downloadable pattern, popularized on social media and Ravelry ( knitting community’s social media), and knit by the thousands for the Winter March. Women decided to reclaim pink as a symbol of strength and pink yarn ran scarce at knitting stores and sites through January. The pattern went viral and, within hours of the March kick-off, so did images of the thousands of women and men wearing their versions of the hat. [Full disclosure – as a crowd control monitor, I had to stay at Dag Hammerskjold Plaza and decided to protect my eyes by wearing a hat with a wide brim.] My sister came up with her own varieties of the pattern (a 3-needle bind-off instead of mattress stitch seams; decreases and increases to make the ears stand out), added purple variants, and is now trading the hats for donations to Planned Parenthood (which has also re-claimed pink for its own political ends).
A pink hat also showed up on The New Yorker cover of February 6, 2017. It was worn by Abigail Gray Swartz’ up-dated Rosie the Riveter – a beautiful African American woman with the traditional blue shirt and rolled up sleeves. Rosie has represented working women, especially women who work for general good, since World War II. Most people’s visual “Rosie” icon is based on the poster designed by J. Howard Miller in 1942, proclaiming, “We can do it” against a yellow background. The Norman Rockwell work actually named “Rosie the Riveter” is a different, lesser-known image. Miller’s version has become an all-purpose activist symbol, with special meaning for women. Many political campaigns have adopted the iconography onto posters, buttons and t-shirts for Rock the Vote, Recovery.gov (with Michelle Obama), and both Clintons.
I almost expected the Democratic Women’s Caucus to wear the pink hats for Trump’s address to Congress, but instead, they went for an earlier historic color reference. They wore white to honor the on-going centennial celebration of America’s adoption of Women’s Suffrage. Hillary Clinton had also worn the American suffrage whites, purples and greens during her campaign.
The Victoria & Albert’s announcement stated that they used their “Rapid Response” initiative to locate and acquire ”an immediately recognizable expression of female solidarity and symbol of the power of collective action.” Allow me also to add an “insidethe mseum” reference here — my tribute to Edith Mayo, curator for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in the activist 1970s – 1990s. She was the promulgator of her own variation of the “Rapid Response” Initiative – she attended civil rights and peace marches, stayed late and picked up all of the left-over posters, buttons and t-shirts for the collection. I first heard her speak at a NYSCA seminar in 1990 and think of her every time that I am working voter registration tables, handing flyers out on a corner, or marching for a cause. I wish that she could have picked up a pink pussy hat to go with the collection that she developed over the years for Rosie the Riveter and “We Can Do It.” But I am sure that some of the many staff that she inspired and trained are documenting the current activism for their institutions.