Her Legacy: The August Centennial of the Nineteenth AmendmentAug 14, 2020 08:00AM ● By Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council | Illustrations by Libby VanderPloeg
On August 26th, 1920, the United States certified the Nineteenth Amendment to its constitution: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Raise your glasses to its centennial!
Much had been asked of American women after the founding of our country, but for almost 150 years the U.S. did not ensure that women had the basic right of citizenship: the vote. Across the nation today, viewers of The Vote on PBS are astonished to meet the spirited and relentless American women who endured the 75-year fight; and readers of Elaine Weiss’s The Woman’s Hour are gipped by her riveting account of summer of 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment--by one vote.
Closer to home and for twenty years, the Greater Grand Rapids Women’s History Council has been uncovering local suffrage activists, previously invisible in city and state histories, and fitting them into even the national narrative. For a short course, please visit our website’s suffrage page at ggrwhc.org. Tour the early days of the Michigan movement, fueled by 1880s opportunities to vote and run for school boards; the 1890s heyday when Grand Rapids hosted the national convention; the moves toward diversity as well as counterproductive racist moments; hijinks in the teens with floats and newspaper takeovers; and a passionate final push, when WWI soldiers demanded the vote for their mothers and 14,000 Grand Rapids women’s names ran in newspapers in support.
On August 26th, 2020, we had hoped for the electricity of an in-person celebration, seven-hundred strong--raising our voices in the suffrage anthem; lending our ears to the decorous oratory of Victorian stages; witnessing a virtual parade of images from the last decade’s spectacle and print campaigns; honoring local women building on the right to vote by running for public office; and thanking the descendants of major Grand Rapids suffragists Emily Burton Ketcham and Alde Louise Tuck Blake, whose donations jumpstarted our early work and continue to fuel our efforts today.
The GGRWHC works hard to honor the contributions of Grand Rapids suffragists, to supplement the Michigan narrative, and to put more flesh on the bones of the national story. As we build history, though, we also try to correct errors and emphases. During the emerging Jim Crow period of 1899, for example, Grand Rapids was the site of racial tension during the national conference. Read about this on our website, and please be alert to all aspects of suffrage history, positive and negative. But also be aware that many people today believe that the Nineteenth Amendment underwrote the right of suffrage exclusively for white women. While it took the 1965 Voting Rights Act to counter continued voter suppression, mainly in the South, throughout most of the country African American women could go to the polls in 1920. At home in Chicago, Ida B. Wells was in fact an enfranchised woman!
Emily Burton Ketcham, 1899 Grand Rapids leader
1910 GR Equal Franchise Club float
1918 Grand Rapids Press cartoon
1899 NAWSA convention in GR
1899 NAWSA badge
1912 Michigan headquarters in GR