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‘The Light of Truth Upon Them’
Voting Rights: Hard Won, Not Done

Vermont Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas speaks at a reception on Sept. 13 in her office at 128 State Street marking the installation of Cynthia Cagle’s painting “The Light of Truth Upon Them,” which was commissioned to mark the centennial of women obtaining the right to vote. Photo by John Lazenby.
The Secretary of State’s Office celebrated the reopening of its building — the first state office in Montpelier to do so after the July flood — with a reception in honor of “The Light of Truth Upon Them,” a painting that commemorates passage of the 19th Amendment and which now prominently hangs just inside the entrance of the Secretary of State’s offices at 128 State Street in Montpelier.

Painted by South Burlington artist Cynthia Cagle, the brightly colored oil painting depicts six Indigenous, Black, Latina, Asian, and white women who have played important roles in women’s suffrage, including two Vermonters and the woman whose writing inspired the name of the painting.

“These women are more than just activists,” Cagle said at the Sept. 13 reception. “They were rebels, agitators, and warriors; members of the BIPOC community for whom access to vote was barred in so many ways. They fought not just for women’s right to vote but for the right to vote for all.”

The two Vermonters in the painting are Lucy J.C. Daniels of Grafton, a white woman who in 1917 picketed the White House for women’s suffrage and was arrested, tried, and incarcerated, and Louvenia Dorsey Bright, who in 1988 became the first Black woman elected to the Vermont Legislature. Bright, who passed away at 81 only two months ago, was praised several times during the ceremony. With the passing of Bright, the only living person in the painting is Stacey Abrams of Georgia, who Cagle said “is still out there every day trying to make sure that every voice counts.”

One of the others in the painting is Black journalist Ida B. Wells, who was born into slavery but went on to become a journalist who documented the horrors of lynching and promoted voting rights. 

“The way to right wrongs,” Wells wrote in a line that prompted the name of the painting, “is to turn the light of truth upon them.”

“When I think of what the painting represents and the ‘hard won, not done’ depicted on its banner, it really inspires me and it challenges me to find ways to pick up this fight … because this hard work is not done,” said Secretary of State Sarah Copeland Hanzas, hitting on a point made by all three speakers.

“The painting is a reminder that the fight for the vote is both our legacy and our future,” said Sue Racanelli, president of the League of Women Voters of Vermont. The league and the Vermont Suffrage Centennial Alliance commissioned the painting to mark the centennial after COVID-19 forced cancellation or postponed many commemorative events planned for 2020.

Cagle took the “hard won, not done” theme one step further. 

“For me, the painting is not a celebration of history,” she said, in reaction to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and ending federal abortion rights. “It is a demand. A declaration that in no uncertain terms will we allow the continued disenfranchisement of women in this country.”