Sue Sans Sunbonnet

by Cara Lamb

[Editor's note: this entry is one of four awarded Special Merit by the challenge jurors and project history consultant. Read more on the Special Merit Entries​ page.]

I was never interested in making a "Sunbonnet Sue" quilt. I always felt sorry for her, so hemmed in by fabric and tradition. But as soon as I learned about this project, I wanted to find out what happened to Sue after she got the vote.


No more sunbonnets! On November 2, 1920, Sue put on her latest, most stylish hat to go to the polls. She felt triumphant, but a little bit timid as well, as she placed her ballot in the box. (She voted for Harrison.) On that eventful day, she could never have imagined what the century held in store for her.


There was another World War, for one thing. When the men went overseas, Sue helped the war effort by taking a "man’s job" in a factory. As she handled her rivet machine, she was proud of contributing to her country.


And then there were sports. Without petticoats, she surprised herself with all she could do. Inspired by champions, from Esther Williams to Simone Biles, and given a better chance to play by Title IX, she joined in with a will, and even found herself in a celebrity tennis match against a man!


Once she could vote, Sue wanted to participate in all of public life. She served on juries, volunteered on campaigns, then ran for office themselves. Then she went to college and studied political science and law, aspiring to be a lawyer, or a judge. The great day came when Sue was appointed to the Supreme Court.


Sue joined the military. At first served as a nurse or a clerk, but she moved closer and closer to the action. She could even go to West Point! When the United States joined the space race, Sue was right there. At first she worked behind the scenes, doing all those calculations the space flights needed. But one day Sue herself became an astronaut.


Sue has done so much more in her enfranchised century. You can find her in Congress, in the pulpits of churches, in boardrooms and embassies—places Sue never dreamed she could go. But she has learned that rights once won may be threatened, maybe even taken away as swiftly as those World War II jobs disappeared after the war, and that you can only be certain of your rights when they’re written into the Constitution. She first asked for a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing equal rights way back in 1921. A full century later, she’s hoping this will be the year.


(Incidentally, some of these figures may remind you of particular people, but they are all Sue, because Sue is Everywoman.)