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The Women Pioneers Exhibit in Alden Library on Feb. 2, 2020.

Centennial celebration of women’s suffrage aims for inclusivity of marginalized groups

This year marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, and Ohio University is holding a semester-long celebration of events to commemorate women being granted the right to vote. 

The celebration will include special film showings at Athena Cinema, 20 S. Court St., informational exhibits and empowering activities that reflect the historical and contemporary issues facing women. These activities are sponsored by several OU departments and organizations. 

Among those events is a semester-long exhibit entitled “Women Pioneers,” located on the fourth floor of Alden Library. The exhibit displays historical artifacts pertaining to the various women and events that occurred during the suffrage movement in Athens and the nation.

Saraya Abner, a senior studying English, and Harmony Renn, a junior studying creative writing and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, were each recruited to discover elements that could be put into the exhibit. The two students will lead a tour on Feb. 3 to discuss the research they found and the artifacts they collected to those who attend.

Abner, whose research for the exhibit focused on the artistic side of the movement, said  showcasing this pivotal period in history in an educational realm is representative of how women’s issues are detailed in academic settings. 

“It’s very cool for us to celebrate this in an academic environment because the contributions of women are often overshadowed in the academic canon,” Abner said. “So the fact that we have a whole exhibit to celebrate this momentous occasion in history is showing that women's achievements deserve to be spotlighted and discussed.”

When delving into their research for the exhibit, Renn narrowed their focus onto topics of intersectionality. Renn said that while the suffrage movement was an important step for women, it was problematic in its lack of inclusivity. 

To Renn, this exclusion paints a skewed portrait of the movement, which contributes to injustices still occurring in present day.

“We get this warped, whitewashed view of the suffrage movement,” Renn said. “It takes away a lot of the complexities that we need especially for a modern understanding of identity politics and marginalization because intersectionality was not recognized in the movement and still isn’t today.”

Despite the inequalities present within the movement, Abner said that gaining the right to vote was a stepping stone for future female activists to critique and refine. 

“The big thing with suffrage is that it was a starting point that laid the groundwork for second and third wave of feminism,” Abner said. “And while it wasn’t intersectional, it still opened up the playing field for women to get that right to vote and for other women to acknowledge its issues with intersectionality and improve.”

Geneva Murray, director of the women’s center, elaborated on the 19th amendment as a foundation for future movements. Murray emphasized that while it was a significant moment in history, it was only the beginning and should be recognized as such in its celebration. 

“When it comes to celebrating the centennial of women's suffrage, we have to understand that the 19th amendment was a pivotal point,” Murray said. “But it was not where we stopped having the conversation about what it means for women to be involved in politics or to have a voice in the government that is representing them. That is an ongoing conversation.”

The celebratory events spanning the remaining semester will aim to acknowledge these faults in the movement and inspire changes. The women’s center will hold a craft session where individuals can customize suffrage sashes to reflect modern issues on March 24 and April 4.

“The sash allows us to really think about the different tools that were used by the suffragists,” Murray said. “But it also helps people build connections between the suffrage movement and current political issues that are important to them.”

Sara Egge, a Claude D. Pottinger associate professor of History at Centre College, is a suffrage expert who will speak at Alden Library on Feb. 19 about her research surrounding women’s suffrage in the Midwest. Egge said that her exploration of the topic reflects the marginalization of the rural Midwestern women who were shadowed during the time of the movements. 

“This has been a tribute to those rural women, my grandmothers, my mother, my mother-in-law, all of those strong women that I knew understood politics, understood the fight for equality,” Egge said. “I wanted to bring that history to light and then also challenge the narrative and make it more inclusive.” 

While the suffrage movement was not a flawless event, Egge emphasized the importance of recognizing and celebrating those women who fought for equality while the system was fighting against them.

“The rights that we as citizens and non-citizens can exercise are not guaranteed,” Egge said. “When you think about women working to get the right to vote, they did so recognizing that it was not a guarantee because there was no constitutional or legal provision that offered them that right, so they had to really fight for it.”

A full list of the semester-long events can be found here.


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