Top of page

Kewpie-style babies marching with fife and drum, holding yellow flag that reads "Votes for Women"
Rose O’Neill, artist. “The Spirit of ’76,” Votes for Women postcard featuring O’Neill’s “Kewpie” characters, circa 1915. National American Woman Suffrage Association Records, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

“The Spirit of ’76” Marches On: Inspiring the Fight for Women’s Equality

Share this post:

The 1876 Centennial Exposition was a massive world’s fair held in Philadelphia to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Occupying over 200 newly constructed buildings in Fairmount Park, the fair drew more than nine million visitors for an exuberant six-month celebration of American progress and patriotism.

The fair’s patriotic symbolism culminated on July 4, 1876, with a staged reading of the Declaration of Independence by a descendant of signer Richard Henry Lee, held in front of Independence Hall. Members of the National Woman Suffrage Association, however, disrupted the event by pushing their way to the platform to give Susan B. Anthony the opportunity to present a “Declaration of Rights” for women to Thomas W. Ferry, acting vice president of the United States. Hurrying from the building, the women distributed copies of the document to the assembled body. Safely outside, a crowd gathered, and Anthony read the women’s demands, which included equality for all individuals.  This was not the first time (the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments set a precedent) and certainly not the last, that the Declaration of Independence inspired women to demand their rights.

Large printed broadside with 1876 date underlined in pencil
Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States, July 4, 1876. Susan B. Anthony Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress.

Meanwhile, a stirring painting by Archibald M. Willard, titled “The Spirit of ’76” (better known simply as “Yankee Doodle”), created especially for the Centennial Exposition, captured the imagination of the fair’s visitors. As they did with the stirring language of the Declaration of Independence, women’s rights activists appropriated the painting’s visual power for their own ends. More than forty years after the Centennial Exposition, the women’s suffrage movement continued to take inspiration from the Declaration of Independence and Willard’s painting in publications (below) and postcards (above), tying the movement for women’s voting rights and equality to the rights of representation sought by the nation’s founding generation.

Pencil drawing of women marching with fife and drums marked "enthusiasm" and "faith," carrying flag reading "Constitutional Amendment." "The Spirit of '76, On to the Senate" written in pencil below.
Nina Allender, artist. “’The Spirit of ’76!’ – On the Senate.” Drawing for the cover of the January 30, 1915, issue of The Suffragist. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.


Do you want more stories like this? Then subscribe to Unfolding History – it’s free!


  1. The 5th of the current Sustainable Development Goals agreed upon by 192 nations is, “Gender Equality”. I have been blessed with two strong daughters that I am proud of. The eldest is a bicential baby born in July 1976 by a very patriotic mother who in a loving way wanted very much for her daughter to have this lifetime honor.
    This same female honor and strength finally succeeded in 1920 to win suffrage.

Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *