By Charu Suri
Congress granted women the right to vote on June 4, 1919, a bittersweet moment for many who had fought for equality for decades. To commemorate the centennial of the ratification in 1920, enshrined in the 19th amendment, new tours and exhibitions can be found across the country.
“There’s been a huge interest in the centennial and voting rights,” said Deborah Hughes, president of the National Susan B. Anthony Museum and House in Rochester, N.Y.
Upstate New York
This national landmark, where Anthony was arrested for voting as a woman before that activity became legal, receives over 13,000 visitors each year. The $15 daily admission for adults includes a tour, while “Votercade 2020,” a free series of daylong events with artistic and philosophical discussions, runs until Oct 3.
In Seneca Falls, N.Y., well-known as the official birthplace of women’s rights, a new self-guided tour, Celebrate 100, suggests places to visit for those interested in the topic. Stops include Wesleyan Chapel (where the first convention was held in 1848), the National Women’s Hall of Fame in the rehabilitated Seneca Knitting Mill (opening this summer,) and the home of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, chief organizer of the convention.
In Sherwood, N.Y., The Opendore Project, a restored Victorian dwelling that has witnessed abolitionist and suffrage activities, opens this year near the Howland Stone Store Museum. It has one of the most well-preserved collections of women’s suffrage posters in the country.
Some operators have started to add relevant programming to the area in light of the centennial. JoAnn Bell of Road Scholar, a nonprofit educational travel organization, said that four new women’s suffrage trips have been added this year: Two are sold-out.
“A lot of boomers have been interested in women’s rights,” she said. Each six-day trip combines a visit to upstate New York with classroom education and lectures (from $1,499 per person).
Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan — the first to ratify the 19th amendment — have created exhibitions highlighting local heroines.
“All these states had a history with women’s rights; the race to get to Washington was a nationwide event,” said Christian Overland, who oversees the Wisconsin Historical Museum in Madison, Wis. An exhibition, “We Stand on Their Shoulders” opens this month and will run through the end of the year.
Narratives of pioneers like Olympia Brown, who attempted to vote as early as 1887, and Ada James, who spearheaded a state campaign, are spotlighted. Visitors will see photographs, newspaper clippings and a diary of Carrie Chapman Catt, the founder of the League of Women Voters who hailed from Ripon.
“We also have the telegram that Jessie J. Hooper received stating that Wisconsin had ratified the right for women to vote,” said Mr. Overland. Hooper became the first president of the Wisconsin League of Women Voters. Admission to the museum is free and the exhibition is on the fourth floor; free guided tours are available with a reservation.
Montgomery, Ala., typically attracts visitors who come for the civil rights history, but Michelle Browder who started her company, More Than Tours, five years ago, will do a special version of her walking and trolley tour in March by focusing on women’s rights.
She starts in the heart of the city where slave auctions were held. Visitors will then learn about the black women who shaped the civil rights movement and see the home of Georgia Gilmore (she helped fund the Montgomery Bus Boycott by selling food), the apartment of Rosa Parks and meet Butler Browder, son of the African-American activist Aurelia Browder.
“Aurelia Browder’s son is going to give a story that no one has heard about his mother, and how she was overlooked,” said Ms. Browder. Two-hour tours are $69.90 per person and are offered daily except on Mondays.
Washington and Philadelphia
National museums and institutions have created exhibitions to mark the centennial and procession that took place on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1913.
The Library of Congress unveiled Shall Not Be Denied: Women Fight for the Vote that runs through September. It shows papers and records of Susan B. Anthony and Mary Church Terrell, an African-American activist who championed racial equality. More than 400,000 people have visited the exhibition already; it’s free to the public.
The Smithsonian highlights women’s achievements in its Creating Icons: How We Remember Women’s Suffrage exhibition, opening on March 6. The curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy said it invites audiences “to explore the creation of the traditional story that emphasizes the contributions of Anthony, but also those who have been forgotten or silenced over time.”
On June 10, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pa., opens an exhibition, “The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote” that features nearly 100 artifacts from the era, including a rare printing of the Declaration of Sentiments, a document signed from the first convention at Seneca Falls that demanded equality with men.
“The right to vote is life-changing, but it didn’t come without a struggle,” said Mr. Overland, commenting on the reform as a whole.