Our Own Work, Our Own Way

The Columbus Museum, Columbus, Georgia
May 4, 2024 – September 8, 2024

Stream the digital exhibition of Our Own Work, Our Own Way above.

Parallel to the broader battle early twentieth-century American women waged to overturn the socio-political constraints historically prescribed by men and law, female artists of the era struggled to earn access to and acclaim in the country’s cultural arena. While the practice of using gender-obscuring pseudonyms for exhibition submissions may have dwindled by mid-century, the fight to garner serious critical and commercial affirmation remained uphill. Speaking for her generation of artist-advocates in 1934, Alabama-born painter Anne Goldthwaite insisted that women artists wanted to be judged strictly on the quality of their accomplishments, through a lens that prioritized genius, not gender: “We want to speak to eyes and ears wide open and without prejudice, to an audience that asks simply—is it good—not, was it done by a woman?” As far into the millennium as 1976, legendary painter Georgia O’Keeffe declined to participate in an important all-female exhibition, vowing that she wanted to be known not as a great woman artist, but as a “great artist, period.”

Working in a region that trailed the national arc toward gender equality, women artists with connections to or careers in the South routinely encountered resistance in their quest to gain parity, especially when their mode of expression was modern in style or subject. Furthermore, contemporary female artists of color faced what Loïs Mailou Jones termed the “double handicap” of racism and sexism. Like their sisters to the North, these Southern women often worked alongside, but in the shadow of, their more celebrated male counterparts, despite the commonalities—dynamic brushwork, bold color, and abstract imagery—of their canvases. Nevertheless, they persisted, presaging the truth that Betty Friedan would proclaim in her groundbreaking 1963 treatise, The Feminine Mystique: “The only way for a woman, as for a man, to know herself as a person, is by a creative work of her own.”

Originally curated by Susanna Johnson Shannon and Carter Lee Johnson, Our Own Work, Our Own Way was presented in honor of the historic milestones being observed in the United States in 2020, including the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women's constitutional right to vote as well as the two-hundredth anniversary of Susan B. Anthony's birth in 1820.