It is fair to say that we Americans are living history full on. The unprecedented presidency of Donald Trump, the COVID pandemic, and the Black Lives Matter movement … any one of these events would be termed historical. Taken together they are creating an historical maelstrom that will be parsed and dissected for decades.
History gets short shrift these days. The current populace generally sees everything in the moment and this tendency makes most people view history as snippets, if they think of history at all. This past week —with the dual confluence of our first black female Vice Presidential candidate and the Centennial celebration of ratification of the 19th Amendment — has certainly focused many minds on that moment 100 years ago when women finally won the vote. I don’t recall learning much about the 19th Amendment in school but I do recall that my history books said that women were “given” the vote in 1920. As the excellent PBS series “The Vote” makes clear, women weren’t “given” the vote, they fought for 70 years to secure it.
The series, part of the 32nd season of the PBS American Experience series, is well worth your time. It is produced in the Ken Burns style, lots of old pictures and archival film footage, with the writings of the principle players delivered by the likes of Laura Linney as Carrie Chapman Catt, Patricia Clarkson as Harriot Stanton Blatch, and Audra McDonald as the compelling Ida B. Wells (long before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Ida B Wells did the same in 1884).
The series is particularly illuminating with respect to the interaction of black and white women during the struggle. Some of my younger friends may say, “So what? Today is about BLM, we already won the women’s vote.” Well, maybe so, but “The Vote” gives an interesting look at the role of black women clubs, something you are hearing a lot about in connection with Kamala Harris. And the historical intertwining of women and black rights helps to explain many of the problems we are still endeavoring to resolve.
There is, no doubt, a lot of racism on display in “The Vote” but even more is the ugly face of misogyny (which is “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women”). I defy any woman to watch this series — with its images of women speaking before crowds of men, many with jeering, misogynistic views clearly displayed on their faces — and not feel a chill up her spine. Every woman has seen those looks at one time or another and the modern day #MeToo movement demonstrates misogyny is still alive and well. But to place yourself before a crowd of such men, who clearly despise the woman before them, was stunningly heroic.
Ladies, we owe it to ourselves and our children to learn this history — or perhaps I should say herstory — of the brave women who labored for seven decades to give us a right that some of us will not even bother to exercise. Watch this series and I can guarantee voting will never be the same for you. On November 3rd be sure to exercise a right that women fought and died for. It seems the least you can do in this historical moment. ❖