A Century of Paving the Way

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Illustration by Cole Main

On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the last state to ratify the 19th Amendment. In 2020, we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification.

Professor Sara Sundberg from the University of Central Missouri’s history department and other departments across campus have implemented different activities and projects to allow students to better appreciate and celebrate the amendment’s anniversary.

They have brought in speakers, such as professor Cathleen Cahill from Penn State University, performed popular plays that were once used as a way to gain the attention of citizens during the fight for the vote, such as Christopher St. John’s “How the Vote Was Won” and shown movies such as “Iron Jawed Angels,” the 2004 historical film directed by Katja von Garnier.

From Aug. 18 to Sept. 19, the campus is housing an exhibit at The Gallery of Art and Design, where students can see art made by suffragettes from 1848 to 1920.

Christian Cutler, the director of The Gallery of Art and Design said, “The community is excited about it,” and “This is a nationally recognized event. I am excited to have the university present these historic images.”

Sundberg said she encourages students to go visit the gallery and enjoy the art of the Suffragettes. When asked about the significance of the anniversary, Sundberg stated the importance of thinking critically about the 19th Amendment.

She said, “I think it is significant as a benchmark or milestone in a much larger and unfinished story about women’s rights, and the struggle for our nation to live up to its ideals. So, when we look at the actual amendment, it granted women voting rights … but it did not guarantee all women the vote, particularly women of color,” Sundberg said. “I also see it as an opportunity to critically analyze the event and look at what it can tell us about what we can still do.”

Though it was one hundred years ago, the fight for voter equality still lives on in the United States. Elizabeth Smith, professor of Women and Gender Studies said, “There is definitely still work to do.”

Smith wants to encourage students to use this anniversary as a reminder to not taking voting rights for granted.

Looking to the future, Smith said she wants to remind students that the fight for suffrage was a long one.

She said, “The organized fight started in 1848…and many people participated in this movement and never got to see its culmination.” Activism is a journey that might not seem to have an end. Suffragettes started down a path that women today continue to pave.

Smith said, “I see activism in our students and I hope they keep it up. It’s going to be a fight for many years, and each year matters and every individual election matters. It is going to be a long fight, no matter what issue it is, it always is. It requires a long fight to make lasting change.”