Igniting statewide suffrage centennial programming in Washington

By Elisa Law, Women’s Suffrage Centennial Coordinator, Washington State Historical Society

This year, Americans everywhere are commemorating one of the most influential movements in women’s history and marking the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which gave women the right to vote. And while Washington State passed suffrage a decade earlier in 1910, the national suffrage centennial is a chance to educate Washingtonians about our state’s role in the national movement as well as increase the visibility of the important work of women change makers in Washington.

The Washington State Historical Society (WSHS) recognizes that the 19th Amendment, while legally extending the right to all citizens regardless of sex, did not ensure that all women could vote in 1920. This centennial presents an opportunity to expand the narrative of women’s suffrage beyond white dresses and sashes and to engage with the complex realities of our shared history. Rather than focus solely on celebrating the major accomplishment of the 19th Amendment, we’ve focused our programs on the long-term legacy of the suffrage movement which allows for a more inclusive commemoration. Together with our partners, the Washington State Women’s Commission and the Women’s History Consortium, our mission has been to ignite quality suffrage centennial programs across the state. Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Votes for Women Centennial Grant Program

We’ve awarded $150,000 in Votes for Women Centennial Grants to 56 organizations across all 39 counties in the Evergreen State. The grant program focused on projects that celebrate historic and current women of Washington, increase civic engagement, support public understanding of suffrage and gender equality, and examine the long-term effects of how the suffrage movement has empowered and advanced women in society.

The grants have funded museum exhibits such as the Wing Luke Museum’s Hear Us Rise: Asian Pacific American Feminism, Legacy Washington’s Moving Forward, Looking Back: Washington’s First Women in Government, and the Washington State Jewish Historical Society’s Agents of Change: Washington Jewish Women’s Stories. It has also funded theater programs in Seattle and choral concerts in Richmond, cycling events in Bellingham and interpretive panels in Edmonds, school performances in Pullman and women veterans’ gatherings in Fife, and about four dozen other programs. Many programs have been adapted to virtual formats or postponed to address health and safety concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. For a full list of our grantees, their suffrage centennial programs and projects, and project updates, visit: suffrage100wa.com/grants

Free, Downloadable Exhibits and Curriculum

Why is voting important? How does an idea spread? What better time to explore these compelling questions than during the centennial of women’s suffrage?

Downloadable curriculum utilizing primary source materials from WSHS explores why women and men struggled, and continue to struggle, across generations for the right to vote. Students can compare how political ideas spread through media then and now, consider why women in western states got the vote before their East Coast neighbors, and/or contribute to a single, collaborative timeline of Washington State women’s history.

Three downloadable panel exhibitions complement these curriculum. Schools, museums, libraries, and historical societies can print, mount, and display these exhibitions for free during this suffrage centennial year. Exhibits include:

Washington Women Led the Way – While looking at the fight for the vote in Washington and across America over the course of 72 years, this exhibit features vignettes of local and national suffragists and highlights the involvement of change makers who were Black, Indigenous, or people of color.

From Parlor to Podium – Created in 2010 for the Washington State suffrage centennial, this exhibit focuses on the territorial suffrage campaigns centered in Olympia and the women and men who worked to secure the vote for Washington women.

Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote – Made free and available by the National Archives, this exhibit tells of the relentless struggle of diverse activists throughout U.S. history who worked to secure voting rights for all American women.

Wiki Edit-a-Thon

Did you know that only 18 percent of the 1.5 million biographies of notable people in Wikipedia are women? Washingtonians, let’s change that!

In partnership with Women in Red’s 2019 initiative to focus on creating articles about notable suffragists, the Washington State Historical Society created a Wikipedia GLAM page (galleries, libraries, archives and museums) with a list of local suffragist articles in need of creation or improvement.

During Women’s History Month in March 2019, we hosted Washington State Historical Society’s first ever Wikipedia Edit-a-Thon. People from age 9 to 71 joined us to edit Wikipedia pages for local suffragists. Visit our GLAM page on Wikipedia for information on how you can join us from home to help close the Wikipedia gender gap.

Here Lies a Suffragist

Every year, women visit the grave site of Susan B. Anthony to pay tribute to her life’s work of achieving political equality for women. In honor of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, the Washington State Historical Society is encouraging Washington women to do the same locally.

Inspired by the National Women’s History Alliance initiative, WSHS staff and research volunteers have located the final resting places of 115 local suffragists in 42 cemeteries across Washington State in our Here Lies a Suffragist – Washington State virtual cemetery. Very early on, we discovered that some of these grave sites—most notably that of suffragist, poet, and doctor Mary Olney Brown—are in desperate need of repair. We hope to bring statewide attention to this issue and launch a movement to restore the sites.

These burial locations will be added to the National Votes for Women Trail as significant sites in the national suffrage story.

National Votes for Women Trail

Washington State has compiled nearly two dozen sites significant to our suffrage history and has added them to an interactive map designed by the National Collaborative s for Women’s History Sites.

We know there are many more sites to add from all across the state–places where suffragists held meetings, where they were born, where they lived, places where Susan B. Anthony touched down during her 1871 tour to our state. Visit the National Votes for Women Trail to add your local suffrage sites.

57 Washington Suffragist Biographies Completed

Washingtonians answered the call and have completed 57 biographical sketches of suffragists from our state for the Online Biographical Dictionary of the Woman Suffrage Movement, a crowd-sourced biographical database of over 3,500 suffragists nationwide.

This was a grassroots effort with research by students, historians, League of Women Voters members, retired software engineers, professors, research hobbyists, and reference librarians. To see the full list, visit: suffrage100wa.com/blog

Coming Soon!

The exhibition, Votes for Women: 100 Years and Counting, will greet visitors at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma when the museum is able to reopen (slated for Phase 3 of Governor Inslee’s Safe Start program). The exhibit is an intriguing look at the history of the women’s suffrage movement. Focusing on both the national story and our state’s story, this exhibition explains how Washington women contributed to the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment. Votes for Women is a vibrant celebration of female achievements in politics and society.

This exhibition invites visitors to learn the who, what, where, why, and why not of Washington’s suffrage battle. Find out who could legally cast a ballot and who could not during the history of the on-again-off-again vote for women. Journey through an interactive timeline to understand the importance of voting to our society and how women’s suffrage has impacted and affected our nation over time. You’ll come out knowing the names of those who fought for this basic constitutional right, and you’ll appreciate your right to vote as never before!

Special thanks to the curators of this exhibition: Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, the authors and artists behind the book Dead Feminists: Historic Heroines in Living Color. The exhibition will be richly illustrated with work created by O’Leary and Spring exclusively for this exhibition as well as historic objects and ephemera from the Washington State Historical Society collections.

Save the date for the Suffrage Special Whistle Stop Tour

Thematically based on the 1909 Suffrage Special, a train carrying local and national suffragists through Washington with several “whistle stops” between Spokane and Seattle, WSHS invites you to climb aboard for a virtual journey from August 19-26!

This eight-episode video series explores our state’s connections to the national history of women’s suffrage, and honors Washington’s women change makers who led the way then, as well as those who continue to do so today. Ride along by tuning in on the @washingtonhistory and @suffrage100wa Facebook pages.