In its September 9 issue, Publishers Weekly magazine (PW) issues a call to action for writers and publishers to explore the urgency of protecting voting rights—marking the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as a milestone in human rights.
The quest for women’s rights dates back to the colonial era, but most historians focus on the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 as the first major women’s rights gathering in the U.S. Several decades passed before a suffrage proposal—mirroring what eventually would become the 19th Amendment—was introduced in Congress, where it eventually was rejected. Lucy Burns, Alice Paul and other leaders of the women’s movement coalesced around the idea of pursuing statewide efforts as well as a constitutional amendment.
World War I was a watershed in changing American attitudes, especially through the efforts of activists like Carrie Chapman Catt, the founder of the League of Women Voters. She argued that women’s service in many forms throughout the world war demonstrated that they should also serve as voters. The war ended in late 1918. On May 21, 1919, the proposed amendment passed the House of Representatives, followed by the Senate on June 4, 1919; it was then submitted to the states for ratification.
On August 18, 1920, Tennessee was the last of the necessary 36 states to secure ratification. The 19th Amendment was officially adopted on August 26, 1920.
Publishers Weekly: Authors, Publishers and Booksellers to Celebrate 19th Amendment’s Centennial
In its coverage of the centennial, PW points out that many media companies are gearing up for coverage—a wave that already has started and will run through 2020. For example, PW points out that National Geographic is pulling out all the stops—and using all of its multimedia formats—in a yearlong celebration of women to mark the centennial. A special issue in November will be the first in the magazine’s 131-year history to be written and photographed entirely by women.
Most PW content is available only to subscribers, but here is a brief excerpt of one centennial-related feature story, headlined Battle For The Ballot: Women’s Suffrage Centennial—Publishers mark a watershed moment in women’s voting rights by Contributing Editor Sarah J. Robbins:
One hundred years after the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits the government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of their sex, historians, educators, and publishers are considering the complicated milestone, reflecting on a political revolution that is still underway.
Several observers acknowledge major gaps in public understanding, and in their own, about the fight for women’s voting rights. “The centennial gives us an excuse and an opportunity to go back and learn as much as we can,” says Angela P. Dodson, author of the 2017 suffrage history Remember the Ladies, which Center Street released in paperback in March. “It’s an opportunity to delve into the history of people who haven’t even been discovered yet and have crosscultural conversations, too.” Dodson is among those who, in the past few years, have focused on the untold stories of the suffrage movement, many of which center on women and men of color.
“Even before the centennial year began, there have been tensions over who and what to celebrate—or even how to sum up the amendment’s significance,” Jennifer Schuessler wrote in an August article in the New York Times, which discussed three new Washington, D.C., exhibitions on women’s suffrage.
Indeed, in practice, the 19th Amendment only guaranteed protections for white women; women of color, and many men, were blocked by poll taxes and other obstacles until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited racial discrimination. Even today, as the idea of universal suffrage is celebrated, the reality is that each American’s ability to vote still depends on who they are and where they live.
A condensed version of Robbins’ story is available in the public portion of the PW website.
Got Centennial Content You Want to Share? Contact Us!
This is a great time for writers who care about human rights—and women’s rights in particular—to chime in on these issues.
Want a few ideas?
- Write a column for a newspaper’s Op Ed page, an online publication—or our own www.ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine.
- If this is a theme that’s close to your heart and ongoing work—send out emails, social media suggestions or newsletters specifically offering to present a talk or program related to women’s rights in this centennial year.
- Ask friends and colleagues what they’re doing to mark the centennial. Many organizations have plans already underway. If your organization has nothing planned, suggest a way you can help mark the milestone.
THEN, REMEMBER—As Susan Stitt so carefully explained in her earlier column, send possible Media Mentions to your publishing house team! We can help amplify your news.