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Indiana Humanities awards fellowships to catalyze research on Hoosier women’s political history

In honor of the upcoming centennial of women’s suffrage, Indiana Humanities offered a new research fellowship of $2,500 to support new humanities research on Indiana women’s participation in local, state and national politics leading up to and since the 19th Amendment. Our purpose was to commemorate suffrage by illuminating the accomplishments and difficulties women of different background and means faced politically before, during and after 1920. We named the fellowships after one of Indiana’s most significant suffrage activists, May Wright Sewall. 

Although Indiana Humanities doesn’t typically fund research grants, we did so for the suffrage centennial for several reasons. First, due to the paucity of existing research on women’s political participation in Indiana, we were concerned that program grants, if we offered them, would focus more on the national suffrage movement. We were also inspired by other commemorative efforts that invested heavily in historical research in a way that paid off for later generations of scholars. Believing that excellent public humanities programming relies on quality scholarship, we saw a real opportunity to fund research as part of the commemoration in a way that might catalyze future scholarship and programming on Hoosier women in politics. 

The fellowship applicants included scholars at colleges/universities and archivists based at county-level history organizations. Research concepts focused on both pre-1920 (looking at Hoosier suffragists and movements) as well as post-1920 (focusing on women’s participation in politics since the 19th Amendment,) both of which aligned with our goals. We asked applicants to share not only their plans for research and why it was important, but also to share a plan for disseminating their research through a blog post, magazine article, exhibit or talk. In June, we convened a scholarly review panel to weigh the proposals and make selections. 

We are very proud and excited to support these four May Wright Sewall Fellows and their research projects: 

Hilary Fleck, Monroe County History Center: Ms. Fleck, the collections manager for the Monroe County History Center, will undertake a comprehensive review of the suffrage movement in Monroe County and the surrounding area, including visits by prominent national leaders like Susan B. Anthony and May Wright Sewall, debates on and off campus about women’s franchise, and discover the local activists and how they interacted in local, regional, state and national suffrage networks. Her work will result in a database of Monroe County women and organizations who worked to improve their community, a 2020 exhibit about suffrage in Monroe County, a magazine article, and a list or index of Monroe County women who’ve run for elected office. 

Hilary Fleck holds a masters degree in art history from Indiana University. In her role with the Monroe County History Center, she is able to connect her passion for local history and show how broad state and national events connected to local history and people in the Bloomington area. 

Anita Morgan, IUPUI: Dr. Morgan’s fellowship project will look specifically at African American women’s suffrage organizations in Indiana, with a particular focus on Indianapolis’s Branch No. 7 of the Equal Suffrage Association of Indiana, whose founders included F.B. Ransom, Madam C.J. Walker, and Carrie Barnes. She will also attempt to discover African American suffrage organizations and activists outside Indianapolis and to learn more about organizations, like that in Marion, that we know existed but don’t know much else about. 

Anita Morgan is a Senior Lecturer of History at IUPUI where she has taught since 1997. She is a past president of the Indiana Association of Historians. Dr. Morgan’s research includes all aspects of Indiana history with a focus on women, the Civil War, and Indianapolis history. Her work has appeared in the Indiana Magazine of History, Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, New York History, and other publications. Her forthcoming book, An Act of Common Sense:  A History of Woman Suffrage in Indiana, will be published by the Indiana Historical Society Press.

Jamie Wagman, St. Mary’s College: Dr. Wagman, working with student researchers, will investigate South Bend area suffragists, with particular focus on Annie Bell Boss, Emma Barrett Molloy and Alice Mannering (the first woman candidate in Indiana to run for mayor). The research will result in an exhibit in South Bend, a magazine article and conference presentations. 

Jamie Wagman is an Associate Professor and Chair of History and Gender and Women’s Studies at Saint Mary’s College. She teaches courses on U.S. Women’s History, African-American History, and Feminist Theory. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies, a Gender Studies graduate certificate, and an M.A. in Writing. She has been a NEH Summer Scholar and a Fulbright Specialist. Her work has been published in the Journal of Urban History, The Seneca Falls Dialogues Journal, Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender Issues, and will appear this fall in Women and Social Movements in the United States, 1600-2000.

Laura Merrifield Wilson, University of Indianapolis: Dr. Wilson, with assistance from student research assistant Karlee Taylor, will conduct research and interviews on the life and career of Harriette Bailey Conn (1922-1981), a significant African American woman political figure in Indianapolis and the state. Bailey Conn was the first African American woman to graduate from the IUPUI School of Law and served as deputy prosecuting attorney for ten years before being elected as the first African American Republican woman to the Indiana General Assembly in 1966. She was then appointed by the State Supreme Court as the first African American and first woman to serve as State Public Defender in 1970. She was also involved in many local civil rights organizations. The research will result in conference presentations, the dedication of a new historical marker, and peer reviewed and popular magazine articles. 

Laura Merrifield Wilson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Indianapolis, where she specializations include gender politics, campaigns and elections, and state government. She earned her Bachelors in Theatre (2008) and Masters in Political Science (2010) from Ohio University and her Masters in Women’s Studies (2014), Masters in Public Administration (2012), and PhD in American Politics (2014) from the University of Alabama. Wilson is a regular panelist on CBS 4’s/Fox 59’s “IN Focus” on Sunday mornings and is the producer and host of WICR 88.7’s “Positively Politics” on Saturdays at 11:30 am.

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