Do you want to know more about the presentations scheduled for the AHS 2020 annual conference being held October 8-10 and 15-17 via Zoom? Abstracts of the presentations and biographies of the presenters are now available for review.
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Hope to see everyone there!
By Sue Sherif, Fairbanks, Alaska. Sue is a retired librarian and is a member of the League of Women Voters, which is also marking its 100th anniversary this year.
August 2020 marks several landmarks in the long struggle for voting rights for women. August 18, 1920 saw the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution by the state legislature of Tennessee, and on August 26, 1920 the amendment was officially added to our Constitution and meant that women who were U.S. citizens had the right to vote in all states of the Union. Neither of these events were the beginning or the end of America’s struggle to determine who may vote. Instead it has been a long, challenging, and continuing battle to recognize that one of the key privileges of citizenship is the right to vote.
Our Constitution itself has very little to say about who is a qualified voter and what exactly citizenship means. Instead it was left to the states to determine voter qualifications. A few of the original states allowed voting by women and free black men in certain circumstances, but for the most part early American voters were white men who owned property or paid taxes. Even the qualifications for the minority of the population who might qualify to vote varied from state to state. In 1806, when New Jersey abolished its provision for women to vote, no women anywhere in the country could legally vote. In early elections, less than 10% of the population constituted the new country’s male electorate.
In the early 1800’s, as Americans discussed and refined the qualifications for voting and tried to address under what circumstances the new waves of German and then Irish immigrants might or might not qualify to become citizens, women began to look for their rights as citizens as well. Women at that time had very few legal rights in marriage. Not only were they ineligible to vote, they could not own property, enter into contracts independently, work at most jobs, be admitted to higher education, or have custody of their children should they escape a troubled marriage. Nor were they even allowed to speak publicly to what were then called “promiscuous audiences” (audiences that contained both females and males). As doors to education began to open for a few women, they began to look for ways to improve the lot of all women. Many of these women became activists in the movement to abolish slavery, and, as they joined abolition groups, they began to see that they were limited in their advocacy because they had no standing as voters.
In that environment, five abolitionist women in upstate New York in 1848 organized a gathering to discuss women’s rights. The Seneca Falls convention attracted women and men to discuss the rights of women and draw up resolutions for action. Their discussion resulted in 11 resolutions, 10 of which passed with enthusiastic unanimity, but one resolution that Elizabeth Cady Stanton had added despite her fellow organizers’ and her own husband’s objections, called for the right of women to vote. It became the most hotly debated topic of all. It was only when Frederick Douglass, the only African American delegate, spoke up for the need for women’s suffrage, did the resolution pass. After that debate, the idea of women’s suffrage spread quickly although it was to take 70 years before the warriors of the suffrage movement were able to translate their advocacy into the 19th Amendment.
Susan B. Anthony soon joined Stanton in devoting her life to the cause, and we still know their names today. But along with Anthony and Stanton were others who should be remembered. You already know the names of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman, who spoke and acted against slavery, but did you know that both of these towering figures were active and outspoken as women’s suffragists? National and local organizations for women’s suffrage bloomed, merged, and faded during the course of the next 70 years. From these groups came women like Lucy Stone, a stirring orator and devoted abolitionist; and Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an African American poet, orator, and abolitionist. We should know these names and learn more about them.
After the Civil War, the women’s suffrage movement floundered when the nation debated the 14th and 15th Amendments that established black men as voters. The suffragists, who had worked hand and glove with the abolition movement, thought the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery would bring equal rights for all, including the right to vote. Instead, they were told that it was the “Negro’s hour,” and that women of all races would have to wait. In spite of the fact that the leaders Stanton and Anthony, who felt betrayed by compromise, uttered racist comments in their bitterness and actively opposed the 15th Amendment, women of all races continued the struggle despite the resulting division in the suffragist ranks. Many African American suffrage leaders like Ida B. Wells and Mary Church Terrell continued organizing and protesting for the right to vote.
In the West, some of the newer territories and states began to pass women suffrage acts either as acts of their legislatures or popular referenda. Even so, the opposition to female voters continued to argue that women were not biologically suited to voting and that a wife’s vote would only: 1) duplicate her husband’s vote; or 2) cancel it out. When the considerable force of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union with chapters all over America embraced the cause of votes for women, the liquor industry actively campaigned against women’s suffrage.
As the early leaders like Stanton and Anthony passed on, confident that their lives’ work would eventually see results, new leaders like Elizabeth Chapman Catt, Alice Paul, and Lucy Burns took their places. When Woodrow Wilson was president, Paul and Burns organized massive marches and moved their advocacy to another level when they staged the first acts of organized civil disobedience in front of the White House in U.S. history as they encircled the grounds as “Silent Sentinels” six days a week for months, resulting in jailing and forced feedings. Their actions, considered outrageous by some at the time, actually brought public sympathy and pushed the needle closer to Congress and the president’s eventual acceptance of the need for a constitutional amendment.
We all need to know the names of suffragists of that time like Ida B Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Dr. Mabel Ping-hua Lee, Nina Otero, and Zitkala-Sa and learn more about them.
Outstanding achievement though the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment was, the struggle was not over. For example, the Alaska Territorial Legislature had actually passed a woman’s suffrage act as its first piece of legislation when it organized in 1913. But after the passage of the 19th Amendment, Alaska Natives, male or female, for the most part, were still not able to vote because their U.S. citizenship was not established until 1924.
Then in 1925, the territorial legislature disenfranchised many when it enacted legislation that made passing an English-language literacy test a qualification for voting that was not stricken from our laws until 1970. African American men who had gained the right to vote through the 14th amendment in 1868, and African American women, particularly if they lived in the South, were barred from voting by Jim Crow measures and physical violence that would not end until the civil rights movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s led to the enactment of the Voters Rights Act of 1965.
Even today, we read of attempts at voter suppression, so the struggle of previous generations for the right to vote continues to this day. On this anniversary of the 19th Amendment, consider your right to vote and learn more about it. For example, to learn about early Alaska suffragists, go the Alaska State Museum website to view their online exhibit Alaska’s Suffrage Stars at https://lam.alaska.gov/suffrage-star. To learn more about the suffragist warriors nationwide, visit the National Park Service site at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/womenshistory/19th-amendment.htm. To listen to women talk about their own experiences in the suffrage movement, go to the Suffragists Project Jukebox created by the Oral History Program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in collaboration with California State University Long Beach oral historian, Sherna Berger Gluck.
Whether or not you remember the names of any of the countless women and men who fought for the vote, let’s take the time in their honor during this election season to exercise that hard-won right.
A slightly different version of this article appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper on August 30, 2020.
Registration for the 2020 AHS conference is now available on the AHS website.
Thank you for your patience as we tried to plan a conference during these uncertain times and we apologize for the delay in making the registration available. Due to the conference being held in a new digital format this year, it took longer than expected to set up the online registration features.
CONFERENCE DATES: Thursday through Saturday: October 8-10 and 15-17, 2020. Morning session each day: 10:oo-11:30 am. Afternoon session each day: 2:00-3:30 pm.
Registration fee is $50. After you register, you will receive an email from Zoom that provides the link to the Zoom webinars and a passcode that you will need to use to enter them. The same link and passcode will give you access to all sessions. Registration and the schedule are available on the schedule page.
In response to current events and after much thought and discussion, the advocacy committee of the Alaska Historical Society has developed a statement about the importance of history and that different perspectives and a diversity of viewpoints matter.
Any historical debate must be informed by evidence, a close engagement with primary sources, and an acknowledgement that history does not always present clear cut answers and easily identifiable heroes and villains. It does, however, present a singular opportunity to think critically about the past, celebrate moments of triumphs, and reckon with injustice. In doing so, history promotes understanding and empathy; it expands our vision for change and enriches our public dialogue.
The Alaska Historical Society, a volunteer-based non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion of Alaska history and education of Alaskans about their heritage, encourages this debate. We believe Alaska’s history should be broadly discussed and much better understood. We encourage our fellow Alaskans to enter discussions of history based on these principles:
Alaska’s history should be understood in full context and always based on the best available evidence.
The full Alaska Historical Society’s Statement on Monuments and The Need For More History is available under the Advocacy portion of the AHS website.
New dates for the AHS Annual Conference are Thursday through Saturday: October 8-10 and 15-17. The conference theme remains “Power and Place.”
Over the last few months, COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on our lives. We’ve stopped gathering and traveling, and much of our usual interaction for work, school, worship or shopping is now done from home or with social distancing. Last month, the AHS board made the difficult, but necessary, decision to cancel the planned face-to-face annual conference in Sitka, October 14-17. Instead, we will hold the meeting digitally by Zoom, stretching it out over two weeks, Thursday through Saturday: October 8-10 and 15-17. To avoid Zoom fatigue, we’ll meet for 1-1/2 hours in the morning and 1-1/2 hours in the afternoon each day. There are no concurrent sessions; everyone can attend every session. The sessions will be recorded, so if you miss one or want to hear a paper again, you can access it later on the AHS website.
Participants can register for the whole conference for $50, a fee significantly less than what we would normally charge for the face-to-face conference. The $50 fee is intended to offset the cost of hiring someone to set up the digital conference. Registration will soon be available on the Conference Website linked to the AHS website. For more information, check the conference website or the Conference Information page on the AHS website.
We want to make sure that everyone who registers can access the panels. Please let us know, by sending an email to email@example.com or calling 907-240-4917, if you are interested in participating in a training session in how to use Zoom. We also plan to offer training especially for presenters in how to give a paper via Zoom, including how to use PowerPoint slides. Training sessions will be held prior to the conference, likely in the first week of October. If you have impaired vision or hearing, or have other accessibility issues, please let us know in advance so that we can provide captioning or other support.