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Women in White: Democrats Honor Suffragists at State of the Union

House Democratic women donned all-white outfits to celebrate the suffragists during the State of the Union address on Tuesday, in a nod to the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which forbade states from denying the right to vote on the basis of sex.

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The lawmakers shared a group photo before the speech. It was the third year in a row that they had coordinated outfits, using fashion to make a pointed statement on a night of wall-to-wall news coverage.

At the 2018 State of the Union, many women wore black in solidarity with the #MeToo movement. In 2019, after a record number of women were elected to Congress, female lawmakers formed a striking island of white in their seats.

They were drawing on a long history. American suffragists wore white to symbolize purity, as well as purple to symbolize loyalty and dignity. Hillary Clinton had worn a white pantsuit for her acceptance speech at the 2016 Democratic convention, reviving it as a symbol of the fight for women’s rights. The following year, some congresswomen also wore white to President Trump’s first speech to the joint House and Senate.

In a video posted on Twitter on Tuesday, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said that the fashion statement was intended to draw attention to history and to the ongoing fight for women’s rights.

“To the suffragettes and Sojourner Truth, we thank you for the sacrifice, the marching, the courage that you had to stand up against those who would deny a woman the right to vote,” she said.

Sojourner Truth was born a slave and became a famed orator, fighting against slavery and for gender equality. She famously challenged white suffragists to recognize her struggle in her speech “Ain’t I a Woman?”

Many lawmakers added personal touches and accessories to their white outfits. Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan wore a white thobe, a traditional Palestinian dress with elaborate embroidery.

She referenced her colleague Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who, along with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, declined to attend the address.

“I cannot in good conscience attend tonight’s sham,” Ms. Pressley wrote on Twitter.

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