Grisham/Trentham Lecture to Commemorate the Women’s Suffrage Centennial

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

The Auburn University College of Human Sciences is pleased to continue the inspiring legacy of the Grisham/Trentham Lecture event, celebrating 32 years this fall featuring fashion historian Cornelia Powell.

More than three decades ago, Professor Gary Trentham saw an opportunity to open students' eyes to the many paths they could forge with an apparel degree. Trentham crafted a lecture event that featured professionals who exemplified the pursuit of the science of design for a quality life. Notable fashion torch-bearers shared their unique success stories with students, and when Charles and Betty Grisham saw how these connections broadened the horizons of the next generation of leaders, they graciously endowed the program so that many more to come would enjoy the same eye-opening experience. Guests have included designers, entrepreneurs, business leaders, museum curators and couturiers. Each year since, students have been emboldened by the wise words of these trailblazers and inspired to follow their own passions.

Cornelia Powell is a scholar who reads swaths of fabric like the pages of a history book. As a young woman, her connection to the world was through the glossy pages of fashion magazines. To pursue this passion for fashion, she completed an apparel degree at Auburn and flourished in her early career at Vogue. Later in life, she moved to Atlanta, where she opened a successful, high-fashion retail store for the modern woman. Still, she was always drawn to the power of apparel. Today, Powell focuses on sharing her message through novels and guest lectures.

Powell returns to Auburn on the eve of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial to share what she's learned about the past with the young scholars of today, who will change tomorrow.

“The study of clothing is not just about recognizing a time in history, it’s also telling a story about that person. You would know if someone were a nobleman or a peasant just from their garments,” Powell said. “You can read what happened in society, what’s happening now and what will happen in the future because apparel is the most intimate expression of ourselves.”

In her lecture, Losing the Corset and Winning the Vote: How Fashion Shaped a Revolution, she will show how apparel trends and political movement are woven together, specifically during the seven decades leading up to when Congress passed the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Through her own "Who-Wore-What-When-and-Why" lens of history, she explores connections such as the way a corset could restrict a woman to the domestic sphere of policy and how a hemline that dragged in the mud could illustrate the weight of societal pressure.

Clothes, Powell said, are much more than an expression of ourselves, but an expression of the time. And as was the case in the early 20th century, apparel can even be "political armor." Through the use of image and story in her lecture, Powell will paint a comprehensive picture of how what you wear can change the world.

“When our students hear about history from the perspective of apparel, it furthers their understanding of what they’re currently studying. And Cornelia Powell presents a very interesting career history that she’s shaped herself,” said Pam Ulrich, Consumer and Design Sciences department head. “There are diverse opportunities in the apparel field, and she is just one example of an inspiration to students to follow their passion and carve their own niche.”

The 32nd Grisham/Trentham Lecture, sponsored by the Auburn University College of Human Sciences Department of Consumer and Design Sciences and the Women’s Philanthropy Board, is free and open to the public, to be held Oct. 22 at 11 a.m. in The Hotel at Auburn University. For more information about the Grisham/Trentham Lecture, contact the College of Human Sciences via email to or phone at (334)844-3790.