2020 marks the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. That victory had been the goal of suffrage activists since the middle of the 19th century and was the result of countless efforts on both the state and national levels. To celebrate this anniversary, Vassar College is offering a variety of programs, including lectures by Sherrilyn Ifill (Class of 1984), President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and Robyn Muncy, Professor of History at the University of Maryland. In addition to these lectures, the Vassar Library is making available a virtual exhibition and an accompanying essay by Miriam Cohen, Professor of History on the Evalyn Clark Chair.
The virtual exhibition highlights the contribution to the women’s suffrage movement of the students, alumnae, and faculty of Vassar College. Drawing on materials in the College Archives, the exhibition documents their involvement with the suffrage issue both on and off campus. Among the featured names, some—such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriot Stanton Blatch, and Inez Milholland—will be familiar to viewers. Others, such as Elsie Hill and Elizabeth McShane Hilles—may be less so. Together, these activists’ achievements make up the rich story of Vassar’s involvement with one of the great struggles for full citizenship in the United States.
In her accompanying essay, Professor Cohen considers the story of suffrage activism at Vassar through a broad historical perspective. Picking up in 1865, after the end of the Civil War, she places this story in the context of developments in women’s education and of the national suffrage movement. Regarding the latter, she gives particular attention to issues of racial justice and the complicated relationships between white and Black suffrage activists. Professor Cohen also sketches the contributions of several Vassar activists and examines crucial moments in the Vassar story, such as the “suffrage in the cemetery meeting.” Finally, she discusses the roles Vassar activists have played in a variety of social and political causes, including the ongoing struggle for women’s rights since the passage in 1920 of the 19th Amendment.
We hope you will enjoy the exhibit and essay and reflecting on this important aspect of Vassar’s history.
Mark Seidl (Class of 1987) is Special Collections Librarian at Vassar College