A group of Southeastern faculty and staff are helping commemorate 100 years of women’s suffrage in the U.S. through a multidisciplinary, multifaceted approach—and sharing it with people across the region.
On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, securing for all American women one of the most fundamental rights of citizenship: the right to vote. With the U.S. movement for women’s enfranchisement fully kicking off decades earlier in 1848 during the Seneca Falls Convention and the Louisiana movement launching in 1878 in New Orleans, the long road to this pivotal moment in history was strife with a variety of social, racial, economic, legal, and political challenges. Yet, it is also a story characterized by unwavering fortitude that created sweeping changes both in Louisiana and throughout the entire country.
To commemorate 100 years since the 19th Amendment’s ratification and shed light on associated underlying themes through an array of disciplines, Southeastern’s Centennial Woman’s Suffrage Project (CWSP) was launched in 2019 by Carol Madere from the Department of Communication and Media Studies and Angela Dunnington from Sims Memorial Library. Other members include Samantha Cavell (Department of History and Political Science), Amber Narro and Elizabeth Hornsby (Department of Communication and Media Studies), Lisa Moody (Department of English), Jordan Ahrend (Department of Teaching and Learning), Elizabeth Sanders (Sims Memorial Library), Sheri Gibson (Office of Marketing and Communications), Megan Sanders (graphic design specialist), and Stephanie Katz (media and photography specialist).
CWSP has developed several ways for members of the community to join in the centennial commemoration and connect with the associated topics throughout 2020. Following presentations leading up to 2020 in alliance wit the National Women’s History Museum, the group partnered on February 13, 2020, with Preserve Louisiana (formerly the Foundation for Historical Louisiana) to provide a panel discussion. The program, held in Baton Rouge in the Old State Capitol as part of Preserve Louisiana’s popular monthly Heritage Lecture series, overviewed the suffrage movement both in the state and the U.S. as a whole.
A few weeks later, on March 5, CWSP’s largest event of the year was held—a one-day conference titled Determined to Rise: 100 Years of Grit and Grace. The conference, hosted by Southeastern in the Student Union, featured individual research papers, panel discussions, round table discussions of works in progress, and poster presentations that addressed women’s issues and progress across the disciplines of history, English, communication, political science, and sociology. The conference will become an annual Southeastern event, drawing academics, students, and anyone with an interest from across the region, with each year’s occurrence featuring a different theme.
A Determined to Rise traveling exhibit was also officially launched during the conference. The now-touring exhibit presents through eight panels a timeline of significant events, the movement from the African-American woman’s perspective, laws that have changed since women gained the vote, and Louisiana women who have made their mark on history, accompanied by historical artifacts, further reading material, suffrage music, a short video, and on occasion a Zoom panel discussion with Madere and Moody. This resource is provided to public venues, including libraries and cultural centers, free of charge thanks to an LEH Rebirth grant, affording everyone with an opportunity to connect with material in their own community. The exhibit is consistently booked through June of 2021 and will have been on view at dozens of venues across Louisiana by that time.
A Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources regional grant program funded an open course institute to help K-12 teachers design lessons and work with teaching primary sources dedicated to gender equality and the suffrage movement. Originally a face-to-face institute, the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the project to an online component, and teachers will be able to share their experiences through online activities with their colleagues.
Together, these various initiatives serve as an avenue for all members of the public to not only commemorate the women’s suffrage movement but to also better understand their current world by exploring the past and bridging disciplines.
For more information on CWSP programs, visit gritandgrace100.com.
By Sheri Gibson