Equality Day and the Anniversary of the 19th Amendment: Ideas for Celebrating
By Darlene Hantzis, Professor, Communications and Women’s Studies, Indiana State University.
August 26th offers a good opportunity for American Democracy Project programming. Women’s Equality Day 2010 marks the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. The struggle for suffrage and the continuing work to achieve gender equity provide rich material for compelling curricular and co-curricular programming not only August 26, but perhaps as a touchstone all the way to the November elections.
Students today often think gender equality was achieved sometime before they were born. They fail to recognize the persistent practice of discriminations that result in “gender gaps” across society and social life. Celebrating the 90 years that women have been allowed to vote in this nation creates a time and place to teach about the struggle for democracy that very much impacts their daily lives. Equality Day should include a focus on the status of women, but it also encourages us to examine contemporary struggles for equity in this democracy. Equality Day offers an opportunity each year to promote articulate, intelligence deliberation about our democracy in practice. Perhaps we can share ideas about incorporating the 90th anniversary into our programming this year. Here’s a list of ideas to prompt thinking:
- Create a timeline assignment that traces at least the 144 years of struggle for women’s suffrage (and will include important political and social changes from 1776-1920); include this assignment in an art or media class and challenge students to produce a visible or multi-media timeline; challenge students to trace key points for equity struggles from 1920-2010 also.
- Conduct a mock legislative session that rehearses the deliberation in that ended with the exclusion of women from the founding documents; conduct several mock legislative sessions—perhaps one deliberating the 14th amendment alongside the current calls for its revision.
- Conduct a public discussion series about the findings of The Shriver Report: A Women’s Nation Changes Everything; include attention to the significant changes documented in the text—women are now the majority of workers, dramatic increases in the number of women who are breadwinners and/or co-breadwinners, continuing exclusion of women in all sectors. Assign the text in courses (The report is available online: http://www.awomansnation.com/index.php)
- Host a reception honoring women leaders on campus and in your community; Identify 90 women from your community to learn about and recognize on your web site or campus calendar daily before election day;
- Conduct a public conversation or a series of conversations focused on topics including: current challenges to the 14th amendment and the contentiousness of the amendment when it was ratified, denying women suffrage; Voter turnout; “Real” equality of women–begin with your university and the nationally documented gender gaps among faculty—hiring, salary, tenure, full promotion; disconnect between rights and means–the right to vote alone didn’t and doesn’t secure access to multiple populations in the past and today.
- Partner with your local League of Women Voters for a community event or with a local historical society to sponsor a pageant in conjunction with another event.
- Ask your librarians to do their magic and create a library exhibit.
- Stage a reading of the Declaration of Sentiments (1848), the 1878 amendment, and the 19th amendment (include transcript from your state’s vote).
- Create an oral history assignment that encourages students to interview women family and friends who can tell stories across generations.
- Schedule a public viewing and discussion of Iron Jawed Angels.
- Make use of abundant visual, audio, and research resources available online–HerStory Scrapbook, an AHA project with The New York Times makes available articles from the last 4 years of the fight for suffrage; House resolution 1375 recognizes the 90th anniversary; the Smithsonian Folkways has suffrage era music and creativefolk.com has a free download of a version of “Oh, Dear, What Can the Matter Be.“