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Saint Mary’s professor, class design suffrage exhibit

| Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th Amendment are explored in “Votes for Women: 100 Years of the 19th Amendment,” a new exhibit that will be on display at the South Bend History Museum from March 21 to Dec. 31. The exhibit was created by Jamie Wagman, associate professor of history and gender and women’s studies at Saint Mary’s, and her students.

The project was sparked when Wagman was granted a fellowship from Indiana Humanities to study suffrage, she said in an email. 

I wanted to be able to use it to visit archives and create an assignment for U.S. Women’s History students to work with me on designing an exhibit,” she said. “It’s always exciting getting students involved and interested in primary document analysis, oral history interviews and public talks and performances.”

Wagman said she studied a variety of sources as she undertook her research.

“I visited archival collections in South Bend and Indianapolis. Then two history majors and I interviewed the great-granddaughter of Alice Mannering, the first woman candidate in Indiana to run for mayor,” she said. “We donated the interview to the Civil Rights Heritage Center. I then asked U.S. Women’s History students to examine and present on primary sources like brochures, bulletins, flyers and photographs.” 

Elizabeth Ferry, a senior history major and student of Wagman’s, said her History of Women in the U.S. course will perform suffrage songs at the kickoff at the exhibit in April. 

“Singing was one of the ways that a suffragist would protest. … So, we have in our archives some of the sheet music for it, so we thought it would just be fun to sing some of it,” Ferry said. “I feel like the mom from Mary Poppins but with a political twist.”

Ferry said the most rewarding part of the experience for her is the ability to connect people to local history. 

“I am focusing on this archive specific to South Bend and the surrounding area, so I get to see how the movement was really big in Elkhart and South Bend,” she said. “…I feel like a lot of other education we get around the 19th Amendment is about Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Seneca Falls and everything, but it was across the nation and it was super prevalent here.”

Wagman said it’s important for college students to understand suffrage is complicated. It wasn’t a feminist victory for all women, she said. While the 19th Amendment passed in 1919 and was ratified in 1920, black Americans still encountered many barriers to voting, especially in the South. She said the 1965 Voting Rights Act finally prohibited states from excluding black people from voting — after more than a century of work on voting rights.

“A century of organizing led to the 19th Amendment,” she said. “Suffragists protested, picketed, lobbied and organized parades and pageants. They endured arrests and hunger strikes, in addition to public humiliation and threats. Yet they kept going, and oftentimes their daughters and even granddaughters carried the movement forward.”

Ferry said this project has allowed her to challenge her preconceived understandings of what suffrage history is. 

“One of the biggest challenges is learning to grapple with the fact that these women fought for our right to vote, but remembering that they had shortcomings,” she said. “So, it’s like you want to celebrate their accomplishments but also take it with a grain of salt because they did fail in a lot of ways and being able to hold all those perspectives in your head and think about it.”

The exhibit opening ceremony will be held at the South Bend History Museum on April 1 at 1:30 p.m.

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About Mia Marroquin

Mia Marroquin is a rising senior Communication Studies major at Saint Mary’s. Currently serving as Saint Mary’s News Editor, she hails from Holland, Michigan and is an 80’s movie fanatic. Follow Mia on Twitter @_miamarroquin

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