More than a century ago, Indiana women traveled to the polls alongside friends, grandmothers and sisters—many arriving early to wait outside during predawn darkness and in chilly weather. It was Nov. 2, 1920 and women—especially Indiana women—had fought hard to get to that day, the first when they were allowed to vote in national elections.
They were there to vote, and many of them surely agreed with Indiana Gov. James P. Goodrich that the passage of the 19th amendment was an “act of tardy justice.” But, as they also likely knew, it was about much more than a vote, and the battle for equality was not yet over.
In 2020, as the nation recognizes the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote, we urge Hoosiers not only to acknowledge that milestone, but also to remember the decades-long battle that preceded women’s suffrage as well as the struggles for equality that continue to weigh on our democracy.
In this way, the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Centennial, a consortium catalyzed by Indiana Humanities, the Indianapolis Propylaeum, the Indiana Historical Society and the Indiana Historical Bureau, believes our suffrage commemorations should extend beyond observance and lead us to even greater inclusion and participation in the democratic process.
These days, it can be hard to imagine a time when women were excluded from such a key component of our democracy, but, a century ago, women’s suffrage was far from a foregone conclusion. Even some women opposed it, and the movement for suffrage was threatened by internal disagreements. Too often, the movement left women of color and working-class women on the sidelines, and when the 19th Amendment did pass, women weren’t suddenly included in the full political process. The fight would continue.
That’s why this commemoration will be more than just a single event—it will be a year-long effort to understand what women’s suffrage can teach us about the ways that engaged citizens can shape our laws, culture and institutions to be more representative and fair.
So, we invite all Hoosiers to learn with us by engaging in some simple activities. Here are a few:
1. Read all about it: Delve into the history of the suffrage movement in Indiana at IndianaSuffrage100.org. You’ll find a historical essay, timeline and program toolkits.
2. Advance scholarship: There’s still so much we don’t know about how the suffrage movement played out in Indiana. A new research grant named for one of Indiana’s greatest suffrage activists, will help close the gap. Go to IndianaSuffrage100.org to learn more about May Wright Sewall Fellowships.
3. Get active: Attend a rally, join a group advocating for a cause near to your heart, or contact your elected officials to make your voice heard.
4. Ask your elders: Ask women and men who came of age during the women’s equality movement of the 1960s and 1970s about their experiences.
5. Teach your children: Share what you learn about women’s suffrage with younger generations. Reading lists, classroom materials and primary source documents are all included in the teacher toolkits found at IndianaSuffrage100.org.
6. Join the statewide commemoration: Watch for events in your area or organize a women’s suffrage commemoration event in your community. Visit IndianaSuffrage100.org to see an online calendar or add your own event.
7. Vote: Claim your rightful place in the voting booth.
That last point might be the most powerful. Exercising your right to vote not only allows you to fully engage in our democratic process, but it can also serve as a lasting tribute to those who fought for so long and so hard for the right to vote.