How Austin Is Marking the Centennial of Women Winning the Vote
In 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, and in 2020, that victory is being celebrated locally in various ways. Here's how
August 1920. The Summer Olympics open in Antwerp, Belgium. The presidential race between Republican Warren G. Harding and Democrat James M. Cox heats up. Charles Ponzi is arrested for swindling investors of $7 million. Cleveland Indians shortstop Ray Chapman is killed when a pitch from New York Yankee Carl Mays hits him in the head. But the month's big news – the biggest – is that Tennessee becomes the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment, meaning U.S. women have finally won the right to vote.
Emphasis on "won," because the campaign for women's suffrage in the United States lasted 72 years and was as grueling – and thrilling – as any political crusade this country has seen. Rival factions, militant protests met with police brutality, intense pressure on elected officials, savvy horse-trading with male politicos – all that and more, including some of the strongest and most inspiring figures in our history.
So much to know, so much to celebrate on this anniversary of the amendment, the 100th of the 19th! And the ATX is part of the party. In recent weeks, two venues opened exhibits related to the women's suffrage centennial and a website launched that not only honors the women of the past who fought for the right to vote but urges the women of the present to exercise that right in 2020.
The website ATX Celebrates Women's Suffrage – the brainchild of Austin philanthropist/activist Mary Herr Tally – takes a global view of the movement in three dozen varied entries: about the movement in general; about specific women in it; about opposition to it; about racism's effect on it; about the actions taken by Black people, by queer people, by Texans, even by (gasp!) men to secure the vote. The site also offers nifty merch – "suffragist" Ts, notebooks, and mugs – for a mighty cause: supporting the next generation of women leaders by donating all proceeds to the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders and Huston-Tillotson University. And it notes Austin's centennial shout-outs, such as the 12-story "Women Vote" mural on the Line Hotel Downtown and "Forward Into Light," the event that will illuminate local buildings in the suffragist colors of purple and gold.
For a deep dive into the Lone Star drive for women's suffrage, you'll want the new online exhibit "To Vote" presented by Oakwood Cemetery Chapel. It relates step-by-step the efforts to get Texas women the vote, from the 1868-69 Constitutional Convention, when Titus Mundine called for any citizen to be allowed to vote "without distinction of sex," to the 1918 legislative session when a women's suffrage bill was finally passed and signed into law by Gov. William P. Hobby, who had been boosted into office by a hardcore lobbying campaign organized by suffragists Minnie Fisher Cunningham and Jane McCallum. "To Vote" also speaks to which Texas women didn't get the vote in 1918 – African Americans, Mexican Americans, and poor whites – and provides profiles of 14 women who were active suffragists with a map to their burial sites in Oakwood and three of Austin's other municipal cemeteries.
"To Vote" continues through Sept. 30 at www.austintexas.gov/page/oakwood-cemetery-chapel-resources.
"To Vote" notes that sculptor Elisabet Ney was among those hard-working suffragists in Texas, so it's only fitting that the museum bearing her name mark this milestone anniversary of women winning the vote. And it's doing it in a way Ney would no doubt approve of: with a show of art by women working today. "Suffrage Now" features images by women photographers who answered a call for photos that comment on the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The ones selected by eight jurors from around Texas range from explicit political commentary to documentation of protests to portraits of women to Ave Bonar's 1990 shot of Liz Carpenter standing barefoot on a chair to congratulate Ann Richards on being elected governor. But there's more: In addition to the exhibited photographers, other professionals and also amateurs can be part of "Suffrage Now" by posting and tagging their photos with "#SuffrageNow." And every month the Ney will host an online discussion with the exhibition's jurors and featured photographers. The first is this Tuesday, Aug. 18, and features Tammie R. Rubin, associate professor of art at St. Edward's University, interviewing three jurors about what the centennial means to them and how that guided their choices for the show.
"Suffrage Now: A 19th Amendment Centennial Exhibition" continues through Jan. 31, 2021 at www.theney.org.