Exhibit Co-curated by UMD Professor Marks 100th Anniversary of 19th Amendment
One hundred years ago, the 19th Amendment gave American women the right to vote—or did it? A new exhibit at the National Archives Museum, co-curated by a University of Maryland history professor, reveals that American women’s enfranchisement was neither sudden nor comprehensive.
“Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” which opened in May and runs through January 2021, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the process of the amendment’s ratification in August 1920, shows that some American women were welcome to cast a ballot before 1920, and that others were banned from doing so long after.
“When it was ratified, the newspapers are full of these headlines that say, ‘American women enfranchised,’ and it just turns out it’s not that simple,” said Robyn Muncy, an expert on 20th century progressive social movements and policies.
In fact, as documents and artifacts in the exhibit indicate, New Jersey women were granted the vote in 1776, though it was revoked in 1807. In 1869, Wyoming enfranchised women and Utah did so in 1870, but Congress in 1887 yanked that right in Utah as a result of federal disapproval of Mormon polygamy.
In other states, women achieved piecemeal enfranchisement—the right to vote in school board elections, for example, or just in presidential elections.
And even after the 19th Amendment’s passage, many women still couldn’t use the ballot box, including those in Puerto Rico, since the amendment referred only to states and not territories. Black women in the South also continued to face barriers to voting. One famous photo in the exhibit shows activist Amelia Boynton in the arms of other marchers after police beat her in Selma, Alabama, during the 1965 Bloody Sunday conflict.
The documents, photographs and artifacts collected for the exhibit include the 1919 amendment itself, along with the ratification from Tennessee, the 36th state (and final one needed) to pass the amendment. Photos show protests and marches staged by activists, and one case shows a lighter touch: campaign paraphernalia meant to appeal specifically to women voters. (The gold peanut pendant dangling on a chain? A symbol that its wearer was voting for Jimmy Carter.)
Muncy hopes that visitors will recognize the ways in which the fight for voting rights continues today for a wide swath of people. “There are all kinds of struggles in the states over eligibility requirements now,” she said. “We’re still struggling over these same things, and we all need to figure out what we think about who ought to be able to vote. And if we have the right to vote, to cherish it.”