WASHINGTON — It’s been a dark election season in many respects, but around the country, women are ending it by wearing white.
They’re donning white blouses, pulling white pantsuits from closets or shopping for new ones, dressing babies in white Onesies. Then they are heading to the polls to cast their vote to elect the person they hope will be the country’s first female president.
The color white references the long fight women waged to gain the right to vote, an official color of their movement, often worn by suffragists in protests in the early 1900s.
“I wanted to show my children that they are witnessing history,” said Michelle Gajda, a college instructor in Tampa. She took her 3-year-old daughter and her 7-year-old son — both also dressed in white — with her to vote early last week. She plans to wear white again this weekend as she canvasses for Hillary Clinton and again on Election Day.
For Clinton’s supporters, it is an exultant note at the close of a nasty and tense campaign that has often obscured the historical significance of her candidacy.
The nominee wore a modern-looking, all-white suit with a white crew neck underneath to accept the Democratic Party’s nomination to be its presidential candidate. She again donned head-to-toe white for her last debate against Donald Trump, this time with a jacket featuring oversized white buttons down the front.
Seeing Clinton in her tailored white suit at the convention transported Kathy Webb of Little Rock back to the “very emotional day” when Geraldine Ferraro wore white to accept the Democratic vice presidential nomination in 1984, becoming the first woman to be on a major party’s presidential ticket.
A whip at the convention, Webb was also reminded of her days as an officer for the National Organization for Women, when the group wore white to its marches “to honor our foremothers,” she said in an interview. So when early voting began in her home state, she reached out to friends and asked what they thought about organizing fellow Clinton supporters to wear white to the polls. They created an invitation and shared it on social media.
The result: More than 200 people gathered in downtown Little Rock, all wearing white, on Oct. 26, the Democratic nominee’s birthday. Most were women, but a few men joined, as did little girls and boys. Webb, a member of the Little Rock City Board, read from a “Century of Struggle,” a book on the US women’s rights movement. A first-time voter spoke of what casting this ballot meant to her.
Then they all went into the polls to vote. “It was very emotional. I knew that people would want to be together,” Webb said.
Since then, people who couldn’t be there have sent her pictures of how they, too, wore white to vote.
The phenomenon of wearing white appears scattershot and organic. Several Clinton campaign aides and senior Democratic insiders told the Globe they hadn’t heard about the trend. As with the Little Rock gathering, the idea in many cases seems to be spreading by social media. Almost universally, people interviewed by the Globe said their decision was inspired by Clinton’s own homage at the convention and the final debate.
Gajda, of Tampa, was moved by Clinton’s nod to the sacrifices of thousands of women before her in her clothing choices. So she decided to do the same. People at the polls asked her children if they were going to a wedding. Gajda explained what they were doing and afterward posted pictures of the three of them to Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #WearWhiteToVote, hoping to inspire others. It’s a hashtag that has been gathering steam.
“It’s a wonderful tribute to a historic campaign and what will hopefully be a wonderful presidency,” she said.
In Washington, D.C., a group of female Clinton supporters organized a white-wearing meetup last Friday morning. “We will wear white, the color of the suffragists, and we will vote early so we can spend the remainder of the campaign volunteering in swing states,” the invitation posted on Facebook read. Other women in the nation’s capital are coordinating plans via e-mail to wear white on Election Day.
Maureen O’Brien of Albany, N.Y., got the idea to wear white from browsing online. Inspired, she created a meme featuring white-clad Clinton, Ferraro, and marching suffragists that implores people to “Vote. Take Nothing for Granted. Wear White On November 8.” O’Brien, who is involved in local Democratic politics, has sent it around to her circle of contacts.
“It’s unofficial, it’s nothing formal, but it would be nice to see people do it and kind of give a tip of the hat to everything Hillary has gone through this last year and a half,” said O’Brien, who thinks Clinton has faced sexist attacks from Republicans throughout this campaign and the whole of her public life.
“She’s smart, she’s bright, she wasn’t just kind of picking out china in the White House and they went after her from day one,” she said.
It’s not all being driven by social media. Carol Donovan, a former Massachusetts state representative, was a Clinton delegate to the convention at Philadelphia. Clinton’s white attire on her last night led Donovan and some friends to decide right then and there to wear white on Election Day. This week, she took the dry-cleaning plastic off her white suit.
In Texas, Houston Mayor Pro-Tem Ellen Cohen and her 101-year-old mother will wear white to vote for Clinton Thursday. Cohen said she got the idea from a staff member.
Cohen’s mother, Elaine May Rippner, who was born in 1915 before women in the United States had the right to vote, said in an interview that “it’s absolutely” time for the country to have a female president. Women should have had the vote here long before they got it, too, “because we’re human beings just like men are,” Rippner added. As for Clinton, she says: “She is very well qualified.”
What about her decision to wear white? “Ellen told me to wear white,” she said, referring to her daughter. “So there’s no question.”Victoria McGrane can be reached at victoria.mcgrane @globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.