WASHINGTON – The current exhibition at the Library of Congress pays tribute to the suffragettes, a group of activists who 100 years ago changed the future of the country with what is considered the biggest reform movement in American history, and which achieved what many considered impossible: the woman’s right to vote.
“The exhibition will tell the story of the largest reform movement in American history, with documents and archives from women who changed political history a hundred years ago,” the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, said in the presentation of “Shall Not Be Denied,” which opens this Tuesday.
The date and place for the inauguration of this exhibition were not chosen at random, since it was precisely on June 4, 1919, when the US Congress passed the constitutional amendment allowing women to vote, a text that would be ratified by President Woodrow Wilson on Aug. 18, 1920.
“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” the 19th Amendment says.
An achievement which, according to exhibit curator Janice Ruth, was only possible thanks to the sacrifice and perseverance of the suffragettes, who for more than 70 years never gave up their mission.
“Certainly, what I think most of the people don’t appreciate is the degree into which women were under attack. I mean, it was hard to go into certain communities and speak on these topics to often hostile audiences,” she told EFE.
The curator praised the spirit and intelligence of women who “were among the first to picket the White House,” a situation that was badly affected by the beginning of US involvement in World War I, when such activities began to be seen as acts of treason.
“They were very smart, and because there were some sedition acts that were in place during the war, they actually would take phrases from Woodrow Wilson’s own speeches about democracy and the fight of democracy abroad, and put them on a banner and stand in front of the White House and kind of expose the hypocrisy of him and his words,” Ruth said.
These tactics, however, did not keep many from being sent to jail, accused of holding up traffic, for which they demanded to be tried for the real reason for their demonstrations: their demand to be granted the rights to assemble and to protest, both ensured by the Constitution.
Many of these activists had to deal with one of the most tumultuous moments in the fight for equal rights and would later win the victory inspired by the feminists who preceded them, such as Abigail Adams and Susan B. Anthony.
Married to the second president of the United States, John Adams, Abigail Adams used her position as first lady to defend women’s rights with spirit and determination, as shown by the letters she wrote to her husband, one of which is displayed in the exhibit.
Decades later, Susan B. Anthony went further and cast her vote during the elections of 1872, for which she was arrested and sentenced to one of the trials most reported in the media at the time.
Years later, Anthony wrote a draft of the 19th Amendment that was approved by the Congress.
Without her, it is unthinkable that a woman would even dream of becoming a lawmaker, a dream that not only came true for Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski but one she could continue to enjoy until she became the longest-serving legislator in the history of the US Congress.
“The movement of women suffragettes is the history of America; its will, its character and its never ending efforts to expand democracy...they expanded Democracy to the other half of the population,” the former senator acknowledged during the presentation of the exhibit.