Celebrate Women’s History Month

Sunday, March 8th was International Women’s Day. Perhaps you noticed articles in the news about women (and men!) in countries all over the world who staged marches, protests, celebration and, in the case of Mexico, a gender strike. In Springfield, the home of UIS, there was a rally at the state capitol accompanied by speeches from several women activists and political figures and recitations by local poets decrying global gender inequities. The turnout was impressive for a Sunday afternoon – around 300. Around the world, this scene was replicated in cultural and political specifics. 

International Women’s Day started in 1909 and was originally organized by the Socialist Party of America. In 1910, at the international Socialist Women’s Conference, it was proposed that it be organized annually.  Following on the heels of the women’s suffrage in Russia in 1917, March 8th became the officially designated date and, to this day, it is a national holiday in Russia. In 1967, the feminist movement adopted it and the United Nations began celebrating it in 1977. 

This year is particularly notable for U.S. women as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote.

Amendment XIX

The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. has curated an exhibit to commemorate this historic event called Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote, which will be running through September 2020.  If you cannot make it to D.C., you can explore aspects of the exhibit online.

In tandem with this, the National Portrait Gallery (Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.) has a extensive exhibit which includes hundreds of objects as well as manuscripts. It is entitled Votes for Women. The exhibit is impressive for its breadth and depth and would be well worth your time if you are in the nation’s capital. But if you are unable to see it in person you can explore aspects of it online, here at this link.

In addition to the exhibit, the National Portrait Gallery published a companion book – Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence, which you can find in the new books section at Brookens Library (Call #: KF4895 .L46 2019). 

Notably, the Suffragettes pioneered picketing the White House for political causes as they were the first group of people ever to do so. 

Women suffragists picketing in front of the White house. The first picket line – College day in the picket line line, 1917

Brookens Library has many books and video resources for exploring this important historic event.  Here are a couple to get you started:

Select Books:

Votes for Women!: A Portrait of Persistence by Kate Lemay, Susan Goodier Clarke, Martha S. Jones, and Lisa Tetrault. Call # KF4895 .L46 2019 (located in New Books section).

Marking the centenary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, Votes for Women celebrates past efforts while looking toward what actions we might take in the future to further support women’s equality. – Taken from the Introduction.

And Yet They Persisted: How American Women Won the Right to Vote by Johanna Neuman. Call # JK1896 .N48 2020 (located in New Books section)

And Yet They Persisted traces agitation for the vote over two centuries, from the revolutionary era to the civil rights era, excavating one of the greatest struggles for social change in this country and restoring African American women and other women of color to its telling. Author Johanna Neuman demonstrates that American women defeated the male patriarchy only after they convinced men that it was in their interests to share political power. Reintegrating the long struggle for women’s suffrage into the metanarrative of U.S. history, Dr. Neuman sheds new light on such questions as why it took so long to achieve equal voting rights for women, how victories in state suffrage campaigns pressured Congress to act, why African American women had to fight again for their rights in 1965, and how the struggle by eight generations of female activists finally succeeded. – Taken from book cover

Feature Film:

Iron Jawed Angels, starring Hilary Swank as Alice Paul. Located in the Feature Films Collection (Level 2).

This film is the dramatized story of Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, leaders of the suffragist women who fought for the passage of the 19th Amendment. They broke from the mainstream women’s rights movement to create a more activist wing, daring to push the boundaries to secure women’s voting rights in 1920.

Online Primary Sources:

If you are a history buff and want to do more extensive research on your own using primary source materials, here are a couple of specialized database resources to get you rolling.

Gerritsen Collection: The Gerritsen Collection was begun by Aletta Jacobs Gerritsen in the late 1800s. By the time her successors finished their work in 1945, the Gerritsen Collection was the greatest single source for the study of women’s history in the world, with materials spanning four centuries and 15 languages. The primary source materials date from 1543 to 1945 focusing on the U.S., Europe, the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand. 

Women and Social Movements in the United States: The focus of this resource is on women’s activism and spans four centuries from 1600-2000.  There are over 125 document projects and archives, approximately 4,700 publications, a chronology of women’s history, teaching tools, book and web site reviews, archival news regarding primary sources in U.S. Women’s History, a digital archive with a focus on federal, state, and local commissions on the Status of Women between 1961 and 2005. It also includes a dictionary of social movements and organization along with an online edition of the five-volume biographical dictionary, Notable American Women (1971-2004). 

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