Above: Nancy Avery Dafoe, Stacey Murphy, and Gaia Woolf-Nightingall at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s annual conference, 11/2/19
In early November, three of us contributors presented our pieces in the Anthology to the members and attendees at the Women’s Rights Alliance of NY State’s Annual Conference in Syracuse, NY. To keep with the conference theme, “Women’s Rights and Justice in New York State, Past and Present,” I opened our reading with remarks on what we had learned in 2017. These lessons might be useful as 2020 is coming, as groups across the nation are planning celebrations, marches, local events, and other activities around the 19th Amendment.
If there is one main takeaway that people embarking on these events will need to realize to be effective, it’s this. Early in the process of gathering submissions and writing, I realized that in spite of a visceral sense of Suffrage’s enormity, I knew almost nothing about the events of the movement. I only had heard about a couple of its leaders. I didn’t know how many women were involved. I wasn’t aware of how racism played out as the movement(s) evolved. I am still learning a lot about when women did and did not have certain stated rights.
But I also learned I wasn’t alone. Many of the contributors experienced the same thing. And it comes out in conversations I’ve had since. This September, for example, one friend was shocked to learn that racism was a factor because, in her words, after all, “Frederick Douglass was at the 1948 convention.”
It comes out in the pieces, too. We did not edit out writers’ expressions or opinions, so in the book, there are pieces that laud the suffragists as a uniform, powerful force marching toward equality, and right before or right after, there are pieces that point out some of the more difficult realities that appear in the arc of the real story.
More and more, people learn and retain history in sound bites. Most of the history I was handed in school in the 1970s and 80s was white and male. That is changing, but still, facing 2020, I expect there will be a lot more education that needs to happen to understand what we are celebrating. Planners can expect to encounter it at events and other activities that come to bear around the national centennial. Some of it will be representative of the dearth of information and related confusion. Some of it will be vigorous pushback. Organizers that are planning events as actions for activism around women’s rights would do well to be ready. – Stacey Murphy, 12/13/2019