It’s time to return black women to the center of the history of women’s suffrageRoundup
tags: African American history, suffrage, womens history, womens rights
Susan Ware is Honorary Women’s Suffrage Centennial Historian at Harvard’s Schlesinger Library and author of "Why They Marched: Untold Stories of the Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote."
One hundred years ago, just as Carrie Chapman Catt was masterminding the final steps in the arduous process of ratifying the 19th Amendment, she bought a farm in Westchester County called Juniper Ledge. There she commissioned a set of 12 metal tree plaques to memorialize the giants of the suffrage movement, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton “the fearless defender of her sex,” Frances Willard “the woman of widest vision” and Susan B. Anthony “who led the way.”
Suffragists had a deep sense of history. In many ways they were our first women’s historians: taking a walk in the woods with Catt was like taking a course in suffrage history. But the story she offered at Juniper Ledge hints at why commemorating the upcoming centennial of women’s suffrage will be so fraught.
Consistent with the deep-seated prejudices held by most white suffragists, Catt included no plaques to commemorate the thousands of African American women who actively participated in the struggle. Regional chauvinism was an issue as well: All the domestic suffragists were from the East Coast, with New York State vastly overrepresented. There was no one from California or the West, nor anyone from the South, unless you counted the Grimké sisters who left their native South Carolina to settle in Philadelphia and later New Jersey.
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