Be a Part of History!
By Rebecca Now
When reflecting on great moments in history, we sometimes focus on leaders and personalities. Great social movements are made up not just of inspiring leaders but all the many people who take small actions, follow their leaders and, over time, make monumental change. The campaign for women’s suffrage was one of those great social movements. The National Votes for Women Trail Project will highlight the widespread grassroots movement that led to United States women gaining the right to vote nationwide.
The demand that women should have equal citizenship rights was a massive undertaking, which is usually calculated as taking 72 years, from 1848 and the Declaration of Sentiments in Seneca Falls, NY to the ratification of the 19th amendment into the US Constitution on August 26, 1920. In 1920 Carrie Chapman Catt was the most famous woman in the world. She led the National American Woman Suffrage Association and her two million followers in a state-by-state ratification campaign that led to victory. Alice Paul is celebrated for her new methods of civil disobedience that pre-dated Gandhi in India and pre-dated Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement. Paul and her followers in the National Women's Party were the first to engage in political protest and picketing at the White House. Although peaceful picketing and peaceful protest had been deemed legal by the Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, Paul and her followers were arrested, convicted and sent to prison. They began a hunger strike to protest conditions in jail and many were sent to the District Jail's psychiatric ward and force-fed.
Alice Paul initiated massive street parades, including the Women Suffrage Procession (8,000 marchers and about a half million spectators) in 1913 on the day before and following the same route as Woodrow Wilson's inaugural parade. Her dramatic new tactics gained widespread publicity for the women’s suffrage movement.
Catt and Paul were just two of the many working towards enfranchising women. Now we have an opportunity see the breadth and depth of all the activities and participants that led to women gaining the right to vote, in the National Votes for Women Trail (NVWT).
In honor of the August 26, 2020 centennial celebration of women’s suffrage in the United States, The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) is leading the effort to develop a nation-wide Votes for Women Trail. The Trail will highlight the role of each state in the 72-year battle to achieve women’s suffrage. The sheer number of the actions are stunning. Over 1000 suffrage sites have populated the trail so far, and the goal is 2000 sites by 2020.
This project is truly a grassroots effort. Each state will have a coordinator who will lead volunteers from across their state to find and to research those sites that have a history with the women’s suffrage movement. They enter that information into a comprehensive database that will be used to populate an interactive nationwide map, which will – for the first time – represent the complete story of the struggle for women’s suffrage. The ultimate objective of this project is to show how social change occurs, to honor the suffrage movement’s countless participants, and to inspire future generations to treasure their right to vote.
As a committee of the NCWHS, the goal of the NVWT is to document the campaign for women’s suffrage that took place over more than seven decades and was conducted in parlors, churches, town halls, parks, union halls, and other community locations. Suffrage was indeed a national movement, involving rural as well as urban people, African Americans as well as European Americans, rich as well as middle class and working class, men as well as women.
The NVWT intends to both identify the many sites that were integral to the suffrage movement and make them accessible on a mobile-friendly website to be easily searched by location, suffragist, and a variety of other useful criteria. The ultimate objective is to show how social change occurs, to honor the suffrage movement’s countless participants, and to inspire future generations to treasure their right to vote.
For more information, the website for the project is https://ncwhs.org/. There is a video featuring Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton on this site!
The National Women History Museum recently reported that only 3% of content in history textbooks focuses on women’s history!
In 2020, America will celebrate the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. It took 72 long years from the adoption of the Declaration of Rights and Sentiments in 1848 at the First Women’s Rights Convention held in Seneca Falls, NY. Be a part of history and help me populate the Missouri portion of the trail.