Clothesline Project Essay

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The Clothesline Project is a public display of shirts created by survivors of intimate partner violence, where each shirt is decorated to tell the story of the woman’s experience. Displays of the Clothesline Project are generally held to provide public education on violence against women and to create a public forum for survivors of intimate partner violence to share their experiences through creating a shirt, in a healing and supportive space.

The Clothesline Project was started by a coalition of women on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. These women were looking for a way to visually represent the statistics of violence against women and turn them into a vehicle for public education. Rachel Carey Harper is credited with the concept of using shirts on a clothesline as the way to depict the violence women have endured. The concept was chosen because hanging laundry on a clothesline was always perceived as women’s work and hanging up clothes has traditionally been a way neighborhood women exchanged information. The first Clothesline Project consisted of 31 shirts displayed in October 1990 as part of a “Take Back the Night” Rally in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Due to the success of this initial project in educating the public, the Clothesline Project has been replicated by communities throughout the United States and Canada and in some countries in Europe and Africa.

The purpose of the Clothesline Project is twofold: (1) to represent violence against women visually in a way that can be used as a tool in educating individuals and communities about this violence, and (2) to give survivors of violence a way to speak out about the violence they have endured in a way that is supportive and healing.

Generally, a Clothesline Project is produced by asking survivors of intimate partner violence, or loved ones of a woman who has been killed, to express their feelings about their abuse by decorating a shirt. Some Clothesline Projects color code the shirts to represent the various forms of violence against women. These decorated shirts are then hung on a clothesline in public spaces for others to view, often as a part of other violence against women awareness and public education activities.


  1. The Clothesline Project. (n.d.). About the project. Retrieved May 27, 2017, from
  2. Gregory, J., Lewton, A., Schmidt, S., & Smith, D. (2002). Body politics with feeling: The power of the Clothesline Project. New Political Science, 24(3), 433–448.

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