Deputy Archivist Hosts Panel on 19th Amendment Centennial
By Victoria Macchi | National Archives News
WASHINGTON, October 27, 2020—After more than a year of programs commemorating the centennial of women’s suffrage, Deputy Archivist Debra Steidel Wall led one of the last National Archives and Records Administration’s events on October 22 with a virtual panel discussion of the work accomplished, as well as what remains to be done in the struggle for equal rights.
The full discussion, “100th Anniversary of Women Winning the Vote: Reflections on the 2020 Centennial,” featured Susan Combs, former Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of the Interior; Kay Coles James, president of the Heritage Foundation; former Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski; and Colleen Shogan, senior vice president of the White House Historical Association.
As home of the 19th Amendment, which was ratified August 18, 1920, the agency was “especially proud to share and raise awareness of records relating to suffrage,” Wall said.
An issue brought up repeatedly by panelists was the need to understand the exclusion of many women during the suffrage movement, both from voting and from the retelling of this history.
“For many, many years, American history wasn't as inclusive, obviously, as it has been taught now,” Shogan said. “Women's history, the history of African Americans, was largely viewed—perhaps by some as important, but ancillary to the main story of American history.”
"When I look back at the past year in particular... what I'm most happy about, what I'm most proud about, is that I think we've changed the story of women's suffrage and how it's been told, and we've also provided the mechanisms in which educators at all levels can tell that story."
The Centennial Online
In early 2019, the National Archives began commemorating the amendment’s centennial with a number of programs and exhibitions, including Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote, two runs of the Rightfully Hers pop-up displays that were sent to thousands of recipients, and many discussions and film screenings.
The COVID-19 health crisis pivoted the National Archives’ 100th anniversary events to online platforms to raise awareness of this landmark in voting rights. The physical exhibit at the National Archives Building was forced to close early in March 2020; a version is available online.
Mikulski reminded viewers that the fight for woman suffrage continued during the Spanish Flu pandemic.
"They kept their focus,” she said. “It was hard earned, hard fought... nobody gave it to us.”
The focus on online content enabled people everywhere to explore how American women across the spectrum of race, ethnicity, and class advanced the cause of suffrage before ratification of the 19th Amendment and beyond 1920.
In memorializing the centennial, Coles James said there was a need to revisit how the history of the 19th Amendment is told.
“One of the things we struggled to do and I think we did a pretty darn good job of it, is telling the whole story—telling the victories, telling the failures, telling where we wish our movement for women's equality had done better... There's something to be learned from our successes, something to be learned from our failures as well. Never be afraid of the history. Tell the whole history. Learn from it. Use it. And use it as an opportunity for advancement."
“We've left a legacy and a framework for the continuing study of the story,” Wall summarized during the livestream.
Staff writer/editor Mary Ryan contributed to this report.
This event was presented in partnership with the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission (WSCC) and the 2020 Women's Vote Centennial Initiative (WVCI). Rightfully Hers is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of Unilever, Pivotal Ventures, Carl M. Freeman Foundation in honor of Virginia Allen Freeman, AARP, AT&T, Ford Motor Company Fund, Facebook, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Fund at the Boston Foundation, Google, HISTORY®, and Jacqueline B. Mars. Additional support for National Outreach and Programs provided by Denise Gwyn Ferguson, Maggie and Robert Boroujerdi, BMO Financial Group, The Hearst Foundations, Maris S. Cuneo Foundation, FedEx, Bernstein Family Foundation, and The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation/Ambassador Fay-Hartog Levin (Ret.).