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Celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage at Notre Dame

| Friday, January 17, 2020

Our school is named after Our Lady, but it is still incredibly male-dominated. The year 2020 marks 100 years of women’s suffrage in the United States, which is an important milestone. But we have a long way to go to achieve equality, even at Notre Dame.

Try counting the statues of women on campus. Now subtract the ones of the Virgin Mary. As a law student, I’ve seen this male focus in the numerous all-male panels, in the ratio of male to female professors, in the fact that the Law School didn’t tenure its first black female professor until 2019.

As one of my classmates astutely pointed out, Notre Dame is an all-boys school that girls are allowed to attend, even in 2020.

And we can’t place the blame solely at the feet of our school. Just look at the Church that guides us, a Church that still refuses to allow women into the diaconate even in the face of mounting evidence that there were female deacons and possibly even priests and bishops in ancient times. In an article in Notre Dame Magazine in 2018 titled “Unheard Of,” Professor Mary Katherine Tillman eloquently explained this culture of exclusion could be remedied without “major doctrinal or ecclesiastical issues.” Yet women are still excluded.

The Catholic Church is a men’s institution where women can worship, even in 2020.

And we can’t even place all the blame on them. Look at our country as a whole. There are more Fortune 500 CEOs named James than Fortune 500 CEOs that are female. Women still only made 79 cents on the dollar for what men made in 2019. We still haven’t elected a female president or even vice president.

We live in a male-dominated society where women are allowed to exist, even in 2020.

As early as the 1770s, Abigail Adams was urging her husband to “remember the ladies.” Take one look at the Constitution, and it’s pretty easy to see he did not. A century later, in 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president of the United States. Did you know that? Probably not, because our culture still struggles to remember the ladies.

Even in 1920, the 19th Amendment was not a foregone conclusion. The amendment needed to be ratified by 36 states. It made it through 35, but when it got to Tennessee, what would be the final state, it was unclear whether it would get enough votes. It breezed through the Senate, but then stalled in the House.

Pro and anti-suffrage advocates descended on the state. Those for suffrage wore yellow roses, those against wore red. On the day of the vote, Harry Burn, the man who cast the final vote for ratification, did so while still wearing a red-rose that signaled anti-suffrage sentiments, but also while clutching a note from his mother. Her note read, in part, “Hurrah, and vote for suffrage! … Be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification.”

Harry Burn remembered the ladies.

We can’t forget 1920 was not that long ago. Notre Dame had already been around for 78 years. But the University wouldn’t even admit its first female class until 1972. That class was a lot like those first female voters. They paved the way for generations of women to walk through the doors of Notre Dame and then leave at graduation to make the world a better place. Like those first female voters who exercised their rights at the ballot box, the first class of Domer women was comprised of pioneers and change-makers.

To celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage, discuss how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to go, the American Constitution Society at the Law School has brought in a museum exhibit from the American Bar Association and the Library of Congress. These banners are on display in the Notre Dame Law Library South Reading Room through Jan. 27. ACS is also hosting a week of change-makers events open to the Notre Dame community this week. You can find more information on our Facebook page.

Allison Lantero 

law school class of 2021

Jan. 16

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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