Jane Guthrie is an art director from Manhattan Beach, CA. She and many others came together to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the USA at the 2020 Rose Parade. The passage of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution granted women the right to vote. Jane piqued our interest through photos shared on the Recollections Facebook page. She agreed to sit down to do an interview with us recently.
R: What was it like for you to be a part of the Tournament of Roses Parade on January 1?
JG: I worked from last March until a couple of days after New Year’s raising money and helping organize and have that float built for the Rose Parade. It was a long commitment of time.
R: Who designed the float?
JG: A float in the Rose Parade costs $300,000. There are only three approved float builders and several additional float designers. It is all controlled by the Tournament of Roses who have been putting on the parade for nearly 100 years.
The committee supervises the design and building of the floats. They have to be constructed in a certain way. Once there were nine official builders but today there are only three. Once your float is accepted into the parade, you get to choose your designer/builder. You share your ideas and they come back with designs based on those ideas. We picked our builder at the end of April.
R: How closely were you involved in the design of the float?
JG: Well, we had a committee, so it was a committee decision. I was one of the people on the committee. The organization is Pasadena Celebrates 2020.
We started organizing in January. It was a collective of women’s groups and women from a Front Porch Senior Housing Unit in Pasadena. We met weekly from that point on.
Designing a float for this parade presents a lot of challenges but also a lot of wonderful opportunities. Structurally, it was built on a 55’ flatbed straight truck. The engine and bed are one unit. Our design was the Statue of Liberty wearing a “Votes for Women” sash. We had 18 people on the float so we created a park around the base of the statue for them to stand on.
The final design was approved at the end of June/beginning of July. The design is used to raise money to build the float. Our design incorporated a hydraulic engine to raise and lower the statue so it could fit through the tunnel to the parade staging area.
The statue was 35’ tall so this was no easy feat! Other parts of the float had to move to accommodate the statue and not crush the flowers. All of this had to be engineered. That was done over the summer, building and welding those pieces together.
There is much more work done on the chassis that carries the float. The engine is in the back. The driver in the front steers the float with the help of a spotter on the street. It was a big cumbersome thing, one of the largest floats in the parade. Fifty-five feet is the maximum length you can be and still make a turn. At thirty-five feet tall it was one of the tallest floats, too. It was big!
R: Did you have the option of choosing the flowers for the float? It so, which flowers did you choose?
JG: The parade is basically a floral design contest. It’s all about flowers. The suffragist movement used yellow roses. They were the symbol for pro-suffrage. The antis wore red roses. So, we used a lot of yellow roses on the float.
We used purple and white, the colors of the American suffragist movement, too. The colors at the base of the statue were statice. It’s a blue/purple flower mostly used in dry flower arrangements. We also used irises and pumpkin seeds, and the shell of the Statue of Liberty was covered with dried eucalyptus leaves.
R: How does the actual decorating of the float work?
JG: The builders of the floats have a crew of people who basically work seven days a year in preparation for the parade. This crew supervises the volunteers who work to bring the float to life.
Every inch of the float has to be covered in some type of organic matter. Decorating the float begins on the 26th of December. There are five full days of flower decorating. The dry decorating takes place a few days prior to Christmas. The perishable flowers go in vials of water and are the last blossoms added to the float. These are added the final day.
Volunteers work in four-hour shifts. Every shift logged increases the volunteer’s skill level which allows them to increasingly work on more complicated parts of the float.
Professional floral designers are brought in the final two days to do the finish work on the float. The design is mapped out in fine detail so everyone knows exactly what should go where and when it should be placed on the float.
R: Who were the marchers in the parade?
JG: Walking in the parade was like being part of a marching band but without the instruments. We had permission to have 100 walkers because of the 100th anniversary of women winning the vote. We walked nine wide and eleven deep. Ninety-eight women dressed in suffrage costume and two men were in Edwardian clothing and that’s where Recollections came in.
Supporters came from all over the United States. We had people from all 36 states that ratified the amendment. Many of them are involved in suffrage events throughout this year. Many work for their local county or state suffrage commissions planning events to celebrate the centennial. It’s a very big year for vintage costumes!
Marching with the float was a fund-raising tool for us. We learned from the Deltas, a black sorority, who used the same idea. We asked our members to donate $1000 toward the float. In return, they would be allowed to march in the parade. We raised $100,000, one-third of funding!
I was in charge of the costuming. Everyone was in all white. We didn’t have the money to buy costumes plus many of the women already had a costume that they dearly loved, had invested in, and wanted to wear. But, for those needing something, I worked with a costume designer from Hollywood, Kim Ngo, who works on This is Us to create a style guide. We found her through a friend of a friend!
The guide was a 40-page document with 30 pages of photos of suffragists in costumes and a few men’s costumes, too. Because the suffrage movement lasted 72 years, it was a long, hard struggle, and went through a lot of clothing styles of dress. We wanted to give them a full range of styles of costumes they could wear plus hats and gloves.
A lot of them chose a blouse and skirt combination. We did 10 pages of items they could purchase to create a costume. Each item had a link to where they could buy it. Many of those links led to Recollections!
A lot of the women bought costumes from Recollections because they wanted to wear a suit. It’s cold in southern California at 3 o’clock in the morning on New Years Day!
The hats had to be white or made of natural straw. The decorations on the hat had to be purple, gold, and white. I think Recollections provided a lot of the hats, also. We all love to wear hats! We had probably 99 marchers wearing hats. It was like a flurry of color made of feathers and flowers. It was wonderful! That’s why I posted photos to your Facebook page.
Skechers donated 100 pairs of white athletic shoes to match our white costumes. For me as an art director, it had to be tied together and choosing white allowed for that.
Our sashes were made locally and worn by walkers and the 18 people on the float. We also carried 25 signs touting the Votes for Women message.
R: So, how did someone get to be on the float?
JG: The key people riding on the float were descendants of suffrage activists. A grand-niece of Susan B. Anthony, a granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a grandson of Frederick B. Douglass, a grandchild of Harriet Tubman, and a relative of Ida B. Wells were all on the float. They were our key members. We also had many local leaders on the float from the League of Women Voters and the AAUW, JPL.
R: What other suffrage commemoration activities are you involved in this year?
A. I’m probably attending a big event in New York City on the anniversary, August 26. There will be an unveiling of a new monument in Central Park featuring Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth. They’re also having a parade down 5th Avenue that day. So, I’m probably going to go back east and participate in that.
Manhattan Beach is a small town doing a commemorative event. I’m involved with that. It will be a much smaller event, thankfully! There will be many events in small towns and big, at the county and state levels around the country leading up to August.
The co-sponsor of the parade was the National Women’s History Alliance. If you go to their website, they have a list of a lot of upcoming events. The way this float is continuing is by sharing information because so many of the people involved are doing things locally, such as Massachusetts has some stuff coming up. So, the float is becoming an information-sharing site. We have a Facebook page that I believe is open to the public. It’s Rose Parade Outwalkers.
R: How long have you been a Recollections customer?
JG: I’m a new customer! I came to you through the style guide Kim and I created. We tried to do that style guide with a nice broad range of prices, with items you can get from Amazon as well as Recollections. The theme color was white.
R: Wow! That is wonderful. Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and talk with us today.
Are you involved in women’s suffrage activities? Recollections features a Suffragist Collection where you will find many options in one place for easy shopping!
Our Honora Edwardian Suit is a favorite among suffrage celebrants!