On July 28, 2018, Brent Staples published a New York Times op-ed entitled “How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women” in which he warned the organizers of the centennial of the 19th amendment against “convey[ing] pernicious messages and perpetuat[ing] historical wrongs” during the commemorations by overlooking both the racist history of the fight for woman suffrage in the United States and the major role that black activists played in it. “The recent uproar over the monuments to white supremacy that dominate public spaces in the South has put civic groups on notice that memorials often convey pernicious messages and perpetuate historical wrongs. Organizers [of the centennial celebrations] need to keep that in mind as they commemorate a movement in which racism clearly played a central role,” he wrote. This article thus encouraged us to see beyond the symbol of the Nineteenth Amendment and the victory narrative associated with it, and recover the complex history in which it is rooted and think about its legacy at a moment when the right to vote in the United States is still being contested, a perspective which the Schlesinger Library and Radcliffe Institute’s project entitled “The Long 19th Amendment” illuminates (https://www.radcliffe.harvard.edu/news/schlesinger-newsletter/long-19th-amendment).
As Alexander Keyssar has shown in The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States (Basic Books, 2000), the history of the right to vote in the United States is a history of both progress and regression, and woman suffrage is no exception. New Jersey was the only state to enfranchise propertied women in 1776, a decision which Rosemarie Zagarri called “the New Jersey exception” (Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), only to disenfranchise them some 30 years later. Not only were some American women enfranchised at the municipal and state levels before 1920,[i] but the first woman Representative, Jeannette Rankin, was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1916.
On the other hand, many women remained disenfranchised after the ratification of the 19th amendment, such as black women in the South, Native American women until 1924, and American women married to foreigners, who had been deprived of their citizenship by the Expatriation Act of 1907 and a Supreme Court decision in 1915. Up to this day, voter suppression has prevented women – and men – from exercising their right to vote.
Problematic conceptualizations of citizenship have also shaped the history of woman suffrage. In Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997), Rogers M. Smith notes that U.S. citizenship has been legally constructed “in terms of illiberal and undemocratic racial, ethnic, and gender hierarchies” (p.1). Dynamics of marginalization have characterized the understanding of US citizenship, outside the woman suffrage movement and within it. Yet women’s social movements have also explored citizenship in practice, thus giving it new directions and new meanings through their experiences outside the voting booth.
The aim of this conference is to rethink the history of the 19th amendment by reassessing its significance as well as its multifaceted legacy. Individual papers may address, but are not limited to, the following topics:
- The place of suffrage in early feminisms before and after 1920: Was woman suffrage a central demand of the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth century? To what extent was this demand radical or conservative (Ellen Carol DuBois, Lori Ginzberg)? To what extent did the emphasis on the right to vote limit the radicalism of the women’s rights movement by making alliances across race and class difficult if not impossible? Did the exercise of the right to vote remain an important demand of the women’s rights movement after 1920? What were the specificities of women of color’s struggle for the franchise (Rosalind Terborg-Penn)? Were white feminist activists concerned with black disenfranchisement after the ratification of the 19th amendment?[ii] Is there a female specificity in the phenomenon of voter suppression (Carol Anderson)?
- The place of suffrage in the definitions of women’s citizenships before and after 1920: How was women’s citizenship constructed outside of the right to vote before 1920 (see for instance Linda Kerber’s “Republican Mothers” and Jan Lewis’s “Republican Wives”)? How were women’s economic and political citizenships articulated in the 19th and early 20th century (Lizabeth Cohen, Alice Kessler-Harris, Lara Vapnek) and how did the right to vote help redefine women’s citizenships? What were women’s experiences of the vote before 1920? What were the geographical specificities of woman suffrage and women’s citizenship before and after 1920? Did the debates over the 26th amendment involve gendered arguments?
- The long 19th amendment from a transnational and international perspective: To what extent was the American fight for woman suffrage specific to the United States? What were the international networks that American suffragists benefited from before 1920? What were the international networks women of color participated in when fighting for their right to vote? Did some American women help foreign disenfranchised women after 1920? How was woman suffrage used to feed US imperial designs before and after 1920? How uniquely American is voter suppression?
KEYNOTE SPEAKERS: Martha Jones (Johns Hopkins University). Rogers Smith (University of Pennsylvania).
DEADLINE FOR ALL SUBMISSIONS: May 15, 2019.
Proposals (500 words in English and a short bio) to be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
(We welcome papers from graduate and doctoral students.)
Proposals will be reviewed by the Conference Committee:
Audrey Célestine, CERAPS, IUF, Université de Lille
Claire Delahaye, LISAA, Université Paris-Est Marne-la-Vallée
Simon Grivet, CECILLE, Université de Lille
Nicolas Martin-Breteau, CECILLE, Université de Lille
Hélène Quanquin, CECILLE, Université de Lille
Fatma Ramdani, CECILLE, Université de Lille
Anderson, Carol. One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy. Bloomsbury, 2018.
Cohen, Lizabeth. A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
DuBois, Ellen Carol, Mari Jo Buhle, Temma Kaplan, Gerda Lerner, et Carroll Smith- Rosenberg. “Politics and Culture in Women’s History: A Symposium.” Feminist Studies, vol. 6, n° 1 (Spring 1980), p. 26-64.
Ginzberg, Lori D. “Re-Viewing the First Wave.” Feminist Studies, vol. 28, n° 2 (Summer 2002), p. 418-434.
Kerber, Linda K. Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1980.
Kessler-Harris, Alice. In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men, and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.
Keyssar, Alexander. The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States. Basic Books, 2000.
Lewis, Jan. “The Republican Wife: Virtue and Seduction in the Early Republic.” The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 44, No. 4 (October1987), p. 689-721.
McConnaughy, Corrine M. The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.
Smith, Rogers M. Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in U.S. History. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997.
Staples, Brent. “How the Suffrage Movement Betrayed Black Women.” New York Times, July 28, 2018.
Terborg-Penn, Rosalind. African American Women in the Struggle for the Vote, 1850 to 1920. Blomington: Indiana University Press, 1998.
Vapnek, Lara. Breadwinners: Working Women and Economic Independence, 1865—1920. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.
Zagarri, Rosemarie. Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.
[i] As Corrine M. McConnaughy asserts, “beneath the surface of the long wait for a federal woman suffrage amendment was a much more dynamic story of the politics of women’s voting rights in the states.” The Woman Suffrage Movement in America: A Reassessment (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), p. 2. Before 1920, some states granted women full voting rights, whereas others allowed them to vote on school matters or other local issues, and others enabled them to vote in statewide elections or presidential elections only.
[ii] The issue of black disenfranchisement was put forward by a delegation of 60 colored women at the February 1921 National Woman’s Party convention. They presented evidence of the violation of the Nineteenth Amendment and asked the National Woman’s Party to support a congressional investigation on the matter, but the organization refused to help them, see Freda Kirchwey, « Alice Paul Pulls the Strings, » The Nation (March 2, 1921), 332–33.