Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote

Today’s post comes from Debra Steidel Wall, Deputy Archivist of the United States.

Almost 100 years ago, the United States House and Senate passed the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution. A little over a year later the 36th state – Tennessee – ratified it, and the new amendment prohibiting the states and the federal government from denying the right to vote to citizens of the United States on the basis of sex became law.

Photograph of Suffrage Parade, 1913. National Archives Identifier 593561

Here at the National Archives we are making plans to commemorate this important anniversary.

The cornerstone of our celebration is a new exhibit, Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote. It will run in our Lawrence O’Brien Gallery at our building in Washington, DC, from May 10, 2019, through January 3, 2021. The exhibit commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment by looking beyond suffrage parades and protests to the often-overlooked story behind the landmark moment in American history. This fuller retelling of the struggle for women’s voting rights uses our records to illustrate the dynamic involvement of American women across the spectrum of race, ethnicity, and class to reveal what it really took to win the vote for one half of the people.

This exhibit will be complemented by a traveling exhibit called One Half of the People: Advancing Equality for Women; pop-up exhibits for schools and other venues; a range of public programs and education programs; an active social media campaign; and robust digital engagement activities on our web sites and other platforms.

We’ve put together a group of staff from around the country to coordinate NARA’s activities relating to the commemoration. One of the things we will explore is how to acknowledge the complicated and painful reality of a suffrage movement that abandoned women of color.

In addition, I’m proud to represent the National Archives as a member of the Congressional Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.  The commission was established by Congress in 2017 “to ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing for women’s suffrage.” The Commission recently held a public meeting at the National Archives in Washington, and is working on exciting ideas for the commemoration.

Women Marching in Suffragette Parade, Washington, DC. National Archives Identifier 24520426

One of the special things about working in an archives is the opportunity to see original records in the course of your work. Recently, I had the chance to view the original 19th Amendment. I reflected on how this unassuming-looking document, many messy decades in the making, empowered millions of women to step closer to equality in all aspects of American life, and, how, the records we hold at the National Archives reflect that journey.

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