Smithsonian exhibit coming to Ottawa’s Old Depot Museum – Osage County Online | Osage County News

Smithsonian exhibit coming to Ottawa’s Old Depot Museum

OTTAWA, Kan. – How far would you go to exercise your right to vote? In 1858, a group of Franklin County Free Staters were so determined to cast their ballots against the pro-slavery LeCompton Constitution in the Aug. 2, 1858, election that they let nothing – not even a high creek or lack of clothing – get in their way.

The story of the Naked Voters of 1858 is one of local stories that will be explored during the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit Voices and Votes: Democracy in America, which will be on display at the Old Depot Museum, Ottawa, Kan., Aug. 19 through Oct. 1, 2023. The Old Depot Museum is one of only six exhibit host sites across the state and the only host site in northeast Kansas.

Voices and Votes considers the many ways Americans have worked to create a “more perfect union” throughout history. Using photographs and objects from the Smithsonian’s collection and multimedia interactives, “Voices and Votes” explores the history of American democracy, the struggles to obtain and keep the vote, the machinery of democracy, the right to petition and protest beyond the ballot, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

“Who has the right to vote? Who gets to participate in the democratic process? These are big questions we still grapple with today,” said Diana Staresinic-Deane, director of the Franklin County Historical Society. “We all have strong feelings about these questions, which makes voting and democracy hard to talk about. This exhibit gives us non-partisan historical context around which to frame meaningful conversations, something we desperately need at a time when so many of our conversations quickly become polarized.”

In addition to the Smithsonian exhibit, Franklin County Historical Society will host a local companion exhibited called “Barely Made It: The Naked Voters and Other Franklin County Stories of Democracy”, and a countywide outdoor exhibit called “They Raised Their Voices: Rabble Rousers and History Makers,” both made possible with a grant from Humanities Kansas.

Special Hours

The Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, will offer extended hours Aug. 19-Oct. 1. The museum will be open 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays  The museum will also be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Labor Day (Sept. 4). Admission is free, though donations are always appreciated.

Grand Opening

The exhibit kicks off with the grand opening at the Old Depot Museum at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, with live music from Ottawa Brass and remarks from the person responsible for all aspects of a democratic and legal election process in Franklin County – County Clerk Janet Paddock.


FCHS will also host six programs related to the exhibit. All events are free and open to the public. Unless otherwise noted, all programs will be held at the FCHS Archives and Research Center at 2011 E. Logan St., Ottawa, and online via Zoom.

“We the People of Kansas…” The Story of Kansas’s Founding Documents, 1820-2020, presented by Virgil Dean, 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 27. A nation or state’s founding documents speak to the values and aspirations of its people, and at a functional level, provide the functions of government. For Kansas, this was the 1859 Wyandotte Constitution. Virgil Dean was editor of “Kansas History: A Journal of the Central Plains,” the quarterly publication of the Kansas State Historical Society, for more than twenty years. He now acts as a consulting editor for the publication.

“The Governor Next Door: Elected Officials From Franklin County,” presented by FCHS, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5. Everyone who has ever served in public office – from school board members to county commissioners, governors to U.S. senators – is also a coworker, neighbor, family member, or friend. This program will dive into some of the Franklin County personalities who put their names on ballots and the impact they had locally and beyond.

“Madame Mayor: The First Women Mayors of Kansas,” presented by Sarah Bell, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 12. Did you know that for a brief time in Kansas, women leaders dominated local elections? The passage of the 1887 municipal suffrage bill allowed women to vote and stand for local elections. Women mayors were elected in several cities, and in Argonia, Mayor Susanna Salter became the first elected woman mayor in Kansas and the country. Other cities followed. This progress did not include women of color, who, despite being involved in civil and social affairs, did not have entry into elected roles. Yet, by the end of the 19th century, men again dominated the political landscape. Although short-lived, the influence of these early women civic leaders laid important groundwork. This talk weaves the chronology of women’s suffrage in the state with the stories of women elected leaders. Sarah Bell is the director of the museum and education division at the Kansas Historical Society. She holds a PhD in history from the University of Kansas.

“The Pig In the Swimming Pool: Voices During the Creation of USD 288,” presented by FCHS in partnership with Richmond Community Museum, 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 19. For nearly a century, rural and small-town schools served students all of Kansas, and these schools were very much at the heart of these small communities. After the Kansas Legislature passed the Unification Law in 1963, many citizens engaged in public meetings and civil discourse regarding what would happen to their local schools, but few were as passionate as the families in what is now the region served by USD 288 Central Heights. Presented by FCHS staff in collaboration with Richmond Community Museum.

“Charles Curtis: The First Native American Vice President,” presented by Erin Pouppirt, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 24 (This program will only be available in-person.) Charles Curtis was the 31st vice president of the United States and the first member of an Indigenous tribe to hold this position. This presentation will explore Curtis’s Kaw heritage and political rise from Topeka lawyer to Hoover’s running mate. Erin Pouppirt is an independent scholar and a member of the Kaw Nation. She has researched extensively Kanza (Kaw) history and the histories of other Plains Indians.

Voices and Votes: Democracy in America is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and Humanities Kansas. For more information about exhibits or programs at the Old Depot Museum and Franklin County Historical Society, call 785-242-1250, visit, or e-mail Diana Staresinic-Deane at

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