Women's right to vote: IU Bloomington commemorating 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment

"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." -- Amendment XIX, Aug. 26, 1920

On Aug. 26, 1920, after decades of coordinated efforts across the United States, the 19th Amendment was adopted to ensure constitutional protection for women's right to vote.

Women stand by a voting machineView print quality image
In this photo from 1943, two women stand with a voting machine in the School of Business. Photo courtesy of Indiana University Archives

To commemorate the centennial of this pivotal moment in U.S. history, Indiana University Bloomington is launching a yearlong series of events. The series kicked off last week with an event hosted by IU's Political and Civic Engagement Program that included the history of the Indiana suffrage movement.

"The centennial of the expansion of the franchise to women offers not just the opportunity to look back but also to look forward, and to think critically about voter engagement and women's political participation in 2020," IU Bloomington Provost and Executive Vice President Lauren Robel said. "I am excited to see us offer these diverse and engaging events across campus during an election year."

One highlight of IU Bloomington's 19th Amendment celebrations will be a visit from award-winning journalist Elaine Weiss, author of "The Woman's Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote." Steven Spielberg is developing the book for TV, with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton serving as executive producer. Weiss' work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper's, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Christian Science Monitor; her reports and documentaries have been featured on NPR and Voice of America.

Weiss will be the keynote speaker for the city of Bloomington's Women's History Luncheon on Wednesday, March 25, and will also present a talk on the Bloomington campus.

IU first lady Laurie Burns McRobbie helped arrange the Weiss visit.

"There are many excellent histories of the American suffrage movement available, but more than most, Weiss has managed to bring historic figures to life and help us understand the nature of the movement itself," McRobbie said. She also said the suffrage movement helps us understand persistence and resilience -- both necessary attributes of anyone continuing to push for gender equity in the 21st century.

"The Chinese say that women hold up half the sky," she said. "To put it another way, women are half the voters, half the workers and, increasingly, more than half the wealth holders in the United States. Remembering the passion, commitment and vision of our foremothers gives us shoulders to stand on to ensure we have half the power."

Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment on Aug. 20, 1920. While some of the IU Bloomington events specifically highlight the experience of Hoosier suffragists, others provide a varied national picture of women's efforts to secure the franchise.

The Journal of American History, published by the Organization of American Historians and edited by IU, announced a new series, "Sex, Suffrage, Solidarities: Centennial Reappraisals," in its December 2019 issue. The series is intended to provoke new questions about the 19th Amendment and its connection to political, economic and cultural transformations. It will continue throughout 2020 with research articles, features and reviews published in the journal, and its related blog and podcast, to foster creative thinking about the amendment and its complex legacies.

Further programming will include the 33rd Annual McNutt Lecture on Oct. 2 during which Professor Robyn Muncy of the University of Maryland's Department of History will speak about women's suffrage in concert with an IU Bloomington Department of History symposium on campus the same day. Muncy guest-curated an exhibit at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., titled "Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote" that opened May 10, 2019, and will remain on display through Jan. 3, 2021. Her many broadcast appearances include 2014's "The Sixties" on CNN in 2014 and two PBS documentaries.

Additional events are planned with IU Cinema, Themester, the League of Women Voters of Bloomington-Monroe County, Wylie House, the IU Arts and Humanities Council, Union Board and the Maurer School of Law.

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