Women’s Suffrage, Historic Markers, and Race:
A Statement from the Board of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the Advisory Committee of the National Votes for Women Trail
In this moment of historical reckoning about race, we, members of the Board of the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites and the Advisory Committee of the National Votes for Women Trail, mourn the loss of Black lives—not only the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Elijah McClain, but the historic loss of thousands of others who have died throughout U.S. history, martyrs to a system of white supremacy. We live now with the echoes of these tragedies and with the systemic racism that still pervades our world.
In this context, we continue our work to commemorate those who supported voting rights for women. The Nineteenth Amendment expanded voting rights to more than twenty-five million women, more people than any other event in U.S. history.
As we remember all those who struggled for the right to vote, we also recognize that racism pervaded much of the European American suffrage movement. Before and after 1920, many methods (including legal restrictions, intimidation, and murder) were used to exclude both women and men—especially African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos/x, and Asian Americans—from voting. In 2020, one hundred years after passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, one hundred and fifty years after the Fifteenth Amendment, and despite interim victories such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, (and its extensions to end discrimination against language minorities in 1975 and people with disabilities in 1982), we continue to face challenges to the right of all adult citizens to vote.
We recognize that we all share in patterns of systemic racism. Our intent is not to ignore this racism but to open it up for public debate. To leave woman suffragists out of the story because they inherited, benefitted from, and often promoted an entrenched system of white supremacy would be to ignore the complex and pervasive intertwining of gender, race, and class–past and present.
We work to understand our past so that we can help to create a world of justice and respect for all people in the present and future.
The National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites (NCWHS) is a non-profit that supports and promotes the preservation and interpretation of sites and locales that bear witness to women’s participation in American life. The Collaborative makes women’s contributions to history visible so that all women’s experiences and potential are fully valued.