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Commemorating Women’s Suffrage: Historical Sites

Suffragists picket outside the White House
Pickets outside the White House, 1917. Source: Barnard Archives and Special Collections Barnard College and Columbia University

 

 

 August 26 is  Woman’s Equality Day, a day that commemorates the certification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote.  This year is especially important since the amendment celebrates its 100th anniversary today.

Last week, a colleague with the League of Women Voters made a donation on our behalf to the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial, an outdoor park under construction in Lorton, Va. She was expressing her appreciation for our role in adapting a film for the League about the women’s suffrage movement.  We hadn’t heard about Turning Point before, but  we are thrilled to be associated with it now.  The memorial recognizes the courageous women who struggled so long and hard to win the right to vote.

As a  result of working on the film, we learned that the early suffragists used tactics and strategies  that foreshadowed those of the civil rights movement some 40 years later:  They had a focused agenda and organized on many levels—from the grass roots to state legislatures to the White House. They attracted national attention with large  parades and demonstrations. And they were willing  to make sacrifices and endure hardships—even violent attacks— to achieve their goals.

When the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial opens in 2021, visitors will travel back in time to the gates of the White House, where in 1917 suffragists stood as “silent sentinels,” picketing President Wilson for the right to vote. The garden will feature a replica of the White House’s fence and gates, statues of prominent suffragists and 19 interactive exhibits. In addition, the National Park Service has donated a real bit of history: a section of the fence that stood there at the time.

Also in Lorton is the infamous Occoquan Workhouse where picketers were imprisoned on trumped-up charges of “disrupting traffic.”  The women’s harsh treatment—they were beaten, tortured and force fed—caused a public outcry and made the country sympathetic to their cause.

Occoquan and the Turning Point Suffrage Memorial are just two of many national sites that honor suffragists. These include the Workhouse Arts Center and Lucy Burns museum, also in Lorton; the Women’s Rights National Historical Park and the Nation Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y. (site of the first women’s rights convention); the National Women’s History Museum in Alexandria, Va.; the Susan B. Anthony House & Museum in Rochester, N.Y.; the Harriet Tubman home in Auburn, N.Y.; the Ida B. Wells-Barnett House in Chicago; and the Mary McLeod Bethune Council House, in Washington, D.C.

If you live near any of these sites, consider visiting one or more when the pandemic ends. Or seek out historical sites or museums near you—most museums have special exhibits this year to mark  the 100th anniversary of  women’s right to vote. Go to Turning Point’s site to learn about the history of the movement and identify the important early suffragists from your own state.

Then make your own “Trail of Suffrage” road trip! We hope you’ll be inspired to participate in the ongoing struggle for fair, equal treatment of all citizens, including the right to vote. Whether you’re a man or woman, you’ll likely never take your right to vote for granted. And you won’t tolerate the voter suppression and gerrymandering we see in America today. Sadly, the United States is, in fact, the only advanced nation in the world that actively tries to suppress voting, even as we claim to be an example of democracy.

As the late Congressman John Lewis once said, ” The vote is the most powerful non-violent change agent you have in a democratic society.”

 

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