On Sept. 23, a crowd of about 25 locals ranging in age from 14 to 90-plus gathered in the Donnelley Room at the Crawfordsville District Public Library to see the first showing of “The Legend of the Legendary League.” In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the founding of the LWV, the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County has put together a powerful narrated slide show program illustrating women’s long journey to the polls. The Fourth Monday programs, sponsored by the Crawfordsville District Public Library and the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County take place each month at 6 p.m. at the library.
“Legend of the Legendary League” Team member Shelbi Hoover, the presenter for the evening, welcomed the crowd, inviting them to tour the collection of vintage suffrage posters, including five of lesser known suffrage heroes. Over the next 30 minutes, as riveting slides appeared on the screen, the story unfolded:
Before the Civil War, audience members were startled to learn, some women weren’t barred from voting in individual states. In New Jersey and New York, for instance, women could vote before the colonies achieved statehood. In New Jersey, unmarried women cast ballots until 1807 when state lawmakers restricted voting to certain men to sway the outcome of the next presidential election.
While most people know about the general suffragist milestones: the meeting in Seneca Falls in 1848, the March on the White House in 1913, and the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, few know about the many prominent African American suffrage fighters, and the Asian and the Native American ones. Few know how the cause faced a backlash when the movement split over black men securing the right to vote after the Civil War when women still couldn’t.
As Hoover said, we today tend to think that once the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution passed in 1920, prohibiting voter discrimination on the basis of sex, the fight was won. That wasn’t and isn’t the case. Passage of the 19th Amendment didn’t automatically hand ballots to Chinese immigrants, nor to Native Americans. African-American women had to wait until later to vote; and, perhaps most shockingly, no one, women included, in the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital, could vote for president or vice president until 1961. And, while we in Montgomery County work hard to make sure our voting system is well understood and assessable, there is always room for improvement. Other American voters are not so well served. As Hoover noted, “Suffrage work isn’t finished in America until every citizen can vote, with convenience and without fear of intimidation.”
The audience also learned about some of Indiana’s first suffrage heroes, including a group of women who applied to Wabash College during the late 19th century. The League of Women Voters of Montgomery County was founded during late 1940s although the National League had formed on Feb. 14, 1920. The audience enjoyed hearing of the meeting in Chicago when women learned, after more than 70 years of fighting, that women’s suffrage had passed Congress. It was quite the party!
“The Legend of the Legendary League” will be presented three more times during the academic year. Its next showing will be at 6 p.m. Nov. 25 in the Donnelley Room. (You may also catch it on Feb. 24 and April 27.)
As part of the centennial celebration, the LWVMC and the CDPL sponsor in alternating months, the “Well Read Citizen” book club. That series kicks of at 6 p.m. Oct. 28 in the Donnelley Room with a discussion of Tina Cassidy’s “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?” This engaging tale traces in alternate chapters the lives of Woodrow Wilson, who would become US president, and Alice Paul, the suffragist who organized marches and other campaigns to confront the 28th president directly with a demand for enfranchisement.
The public library has copies of “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait?” to loan out for the book club. Please consider joining us to learn things about your country you didn’t know; come see how learning helps us all understand the role and the possibilities of an individual in a democratic society.