By Paul Rozycki
It’s been almost a century since women won the right to vote in the United States.
The 99th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which granted women that long fought-for right, was commemorated Aug. 31, at Crossroads Village by nearly 100 women (and some men) dressed as they might have been in the early 20th century.
The women all wore white dresses and hats with purple sashes, which in the history of the suffragist movement expressed support for the proposed amendment.
The event featured songs that were part of the suffragist movement, reenactments of women activists by local actors, discussion of the history of the suffragist movement, and a call to be involved in voting and political activity today.
It concluded with dozens of women (and men) dressed as they would have been in 1919, marching around the Village urging support for women right to vote.
After an opening invocation, quotations from leading suffrage activists, and historic songs, those in attendance retired to the Clayton Township Hall at Crossroads Village and heard local actors create dramatizations and reenactments of leaders of the suffrage movement.
Charis Lee portrayed Sojourner Truth as she spoke of women’s rights. Sojourner Truth was an African-American abolitionist born into slavery who also became a women’s rights activist of the 19th century.
Sharon Burnett portrayed Alice Paul, one of the key supporters of women’s right to vote. Paul was a suffragist, feminist, and women’s rights activist, and one of the main leaders and strategists of the campaign for ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Shelly Hoffman, executive director of the Michigan League of Women Voters, and her husband Brian Haggard brought Anna Shaw and President Theodore Roosevelt to life as they displayed their support of the early suffrage movement. Shaw, with Susan B. Anthony, was one of the chief leaders of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). She was also a physician and one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers in the United States. President Teddy Roosevelt supported women’s right to vote in 1912, when he was running for president as the nominee of the Progressive or Bull Moose Party.
Mary Simmons described the role that Ida B. Wells played in the movement. Wells was a pioneering African American journalist who used her writing skills to lead the fight to end racism and support women’s rights.
Khalilah Mateen told of the important role that the Delta Sigma Theta sorority played in working for women’s rights. The Delta Sigma Theta sorority was founded on the campus of Howard University in 1913, and one of their first activities was to march in the Women’s Suffrage March of that year in Washington D.C. organized by Alice Paul.
Others covered the history of the role men played in supporting women’s right to vote, the significance of Abigail Adams and the women of the Iroquois nation in the early suffrage movement.
Pegge Adams, Kathryn Hunter Williams, and Mary Dillard discussed the local importance of women gaining the right to vote. Linda Hoff of the League of Women Voters concluded with both a discussion of how the NAWSA became the League of Women Voters, and how the Flint Women’s Suffrage Club joined the League. Hoff then discussed the changes in voting procedures as a result of Proposal 3 passed in 2018, and urged those present to be aware of the changes and inform others of the new voting options.
After the presentations a group of both women and men marched around Crossroads Village carrying signs and singing songs of the 1913 suffragette movement and urging support for the 19th Amendment. After the march, participants were given the right to vote on the proposed amendment. Those who voted could then exchange their “I voted” slips for a glass of lemonade as might have been the case in 1919.
A number of local political leaders attended the Crossroads Village event, including Flint Mayor Karen Weaver, Genesee County Clerk John Gleason, Genesee County Treasurer Deb Cherry, and 48th District State Rep. Sheryl Kennedy.
Former Genesee County Commissioner Pegge Adams of the League of Women Voters (LWV) was the lead organizer for the Genesee County Women’s Suffrage Centennial Committee, which is comprised of representatives of several groups: Kathryn Blake, Women in NAACP (WIN), Barbara Young, Coalition of Labor Union Women, (CLUW), Bobbie Walton, National Organization of Women, (NOW). Others who participated in the event were the Nation of Islam Women, UAW Women’s Council, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the Progressive Democrats as well as women not representing any group.
According to Adams they have also “been coordinating with other women’s groups, so the Committee is expanding. The next task will be to establish a calendar for the year,” preparing to celebrate the centennial of women’s right to vote.
EVM political commentator and staff writer Paul Rozycki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.