Thanks to the bravery of several generations of activist women, the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, finally granting women in the United States the right to vote. This Mother’s Day, the Exiles on 12th Street podcast remembers the mothers of the women’s suffrage movement and explores what voting means to women today. Celebrate Mother’s Day with the Exiles, as we talk to historian Susan Ware, whose latest book, Why They Marched, tells the story of the suffrage movement through historical artifacts; listen to feminist writers Liza Featherstone and Linda Gordon discuss what it means to vote in 2020; and talk grassroots activism with filmmaker Rachel Lears, whose documentary Knock Down the House followed the outsider campaigns of four women who ran for the House of Representatives in 2018, including Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
The episode is presented by your host, Claire Potter, co-executive editor of Public Seminar and professor of history at The New School for Social Research.
Here are some links and references mentioned in this podcast:
- Claire mentions the resurgence of female candidates in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. In 2018, 476 women ran for Congress and women now hold almost one-quarter of the seats in Congress.
- Feminist historian and author Susan Ware talks about several leading figures of the women’s campaign to vote, including Susan. B Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucy Stone, and Claiborne Catlin. Ware’s latest book, Why They Marched, expands on the historical context of the suffrage movement.
- Ware notes that the original suffrage buttons were only 5/8ths of an inch large, so while the buttons were sometimes difficult to see, wearing one was still a courageous gesture. Those buttons, as well as later versions, can be viewed on Women Suffrage Memorabilia.
- Ware mentions Carrie Chapman Catt, the president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and her “suffrage forest” in Westchester, New York. The forest included trees with bronze plaques commemorating leaders of the movement.
- New York University history professor Linda Gordon and journalist Liza Featherstone discuss what motivates women to vote, and what gets in their way.
- The fight for women’s suffrage didn’t end with the Nineteenth Amendment. In the many southern states, Jim Crow laws prevented African American women from casting their votes until 1965, when the Voting Rights Act officially overruled the discriminatory regulations. Unfortunately, voter suppression is still very much with us today, as Featherstone and Gordon discuss.
- Claire mentions that progressive Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders attracted younger voters to show up at the polls. Voters between the ages of 18-29 have historically had the lowest turnout rate of any group, but that statistic has begun to trend upwards in recent years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, voting turnout for 18 to 29 year-olds was only 35.6 percent in 2014 but rose to 35.6 percent in 2018.
- Documentary filmmaker Rachel Lears spoke to Claire about making Knock Down the House, a film that followed the congressional campaigns of four progressive hopefuls: Cori Bush, Paula Jean Swearengin, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Amy Vilela. In response to COVID-19, Netflix has posted the film for free in its entirety on YouTube.
- Excerpts from the film were graciously provided by Netflix. Audio of historical news footage of suffrage demonstrations was licensed through myfootage.com.