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In The Public Interest: Planning A Centennial Celebration For The 19th Amendment

19th Amendment
Wikipedia Media Commons

In our bi-weekly conversation with the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area, 89.1 WEMU's Lisa Barry talks to Nancy Schewe and Carol Burke about plans to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the 19th Amendment with a year-long event in Washtenaw County involving and engaging as many people as they can.

About the Issue

This segment’s topic is the Centennial Anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution, when women won the right to vote in 1920.

About the Guests

League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area
Credit Lisa Barry / 89.1 WEMU
89.1 WEMU
(L) Nancy Schewe from the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area and (R) Caryl Burke from the Dexter Area Historical Society.

Nancy Schewe – the immediate past present of the League of Women Voters of the Ann Arbor Area and the coordinator for the League’s plans to celebrate this landmark anniversary.

Caryl Burke – Board member of the Dexter Area Historical Society and Nancy’s partner in this effort.

What will we be celebrating and why?

•   We will be celebrating the passage of the 19th Amendments of the US Constitution in 1920, which was passed after more than 70 years of effort.  

•   The Amendment simply statesThe 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.   

•   In addition, The League of Women Voters was founded in 1920 to support the new women suffrage rights.

The 19th amendment was ratified 100 years ago in 1920 – what is important about this for today and the future? 

•   The official motto for the League of Women Voters Centennial Celebration is Building a more perfect democracy.

•   Everyone needs to be included in the democracy in order for it to work.  It is not a perfect democracy if some are left out.

•   Not everyone had voting rights after the 19th Amendment: 

•    Many African Americans were denied the right to vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1964.

•    Asians were denied citizenship and therefore count not vote until 1922.

•    Native Americans were not considered citizens until 1924 but did not gain the right to vote until 1947

•    And even today some people are denied the right to vote.  For example, felons who have already paid their debt to society are denied the right to vote in some states.

•    Residents of Washington D.C. can vote for the President, but do not have a representative in Congress

•   Our work is not done.  That is why the anniversary is relevant.

How and why is the Dexter Area Historical Society involved in this celebration?   

•   As an individual, I share a passion with Nancy for women’s rights in general and for voting in particular.

Katharine Dexter McCormick
Credit Wikipedia Media Commons /
Katharine Dexter McCormick

•   To answer that question for the Historical Society, I need to shift the story to one particular suffragist, Katharine Dexter McCormick.  This remarkable woman was born in Dexter at Gordon Hall, which we own.  We feel that Katharine’s is one of the best stories that nobody knows, and we like to take every opportunity to tell it.

•   She was the second woman to graduate from MIT.  Later in her life, she was a critical player in the development of the birth control pill.

•   But for this celebration, she was a prominent and active campaigner for the 19th Amendment, and a 10-year Board member of both the National American Woman Suffrage Association (the parent organization of today’s LWV) the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (parent organization of today’s International Alliance of Women).

•   So she was an important player in the effort to get the 19th Amendment passed and she was born in Dexter in a house the Historical Society now owns.

•   Nancy lives next door to Gordon Hall and attends our events there.  She and I met last fall and realized we had a common interest in celebrating this Centennial.  And here we are.

What do you hope to accomplish with this celebration?

•   We want this celebration to reach as many people as possible.  It will be an opportunity for education, for outreach, and for celebration of the impact that women’s votes have had on this country since this Amendment’s passage.  We also want to celebrate the power that every citizen of this country holds with their vote.  By celebrating the importance for women, we hope to encourage everyone who legally can vote to exercise their right and their power by voting.

•   We envision a year-long series of events throughout 2020 and throughout Washtenaw County that celebrates different aspects of the centennial.  We’d like to involve people of as many ages, races, and backgrounds, and as many organizations as we can.

Who else will be involved in celebrating this anniversary?

At our kickoff meeting in January, representatives from more than 15 organizations attended, including

•   Museums & historical societies

•   Arts organizations

•   Libraries

•   Genealogical societies

•   Colleges, universities and schools—history departments, women’s studies departments, political science department, etc.

•   Women’s organizations—LWV, AAUW, NOW

•   Theaters

•   We welcome and encourage additional organizations.  Any organization that chooses to participate will conceive and organize their own celebration.  We will provide light overall publicity and coordination for the celebration.  Mostly, I think we are trying to instigate.

What ideas were suggested?

  • Museum exhibits
  • Lecture & film series
  • Fashion shows
  • Colloquia on voting rights, women’s rights,
  • Washtenaw County Reads book selection
  • Parades
  • Art exhibits
  • Hands-on activities
  • Traveling exhibits
  • Local women and events

How can others get involved?

We invite organizations that want to plan an event in 2020 to join our planning group by going to the League’s website, , clicking on the link to the Centennial Planning Group and letting us know you are interested.  We will share ideas, resources, publicity and energy.

In addition, we encourage K -12 schools, universities, churches, museums, libraries, theaters to begin thinking about how they might recognize this achievement in the history of our democracy.  Feel free to develop your own program.  Joining our planning group is optional.

However, we would like to extend a special invitation to organizations representing the people of color who were left out in 1920 to join us in raising awareness of our history around voting and the important of bringing everyone into the circle of voters in order to Build a more perfect democracy.

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— Lisa Barry is the host of All Things Considered on WEMU. You can contact Lisa at 734.487.3363, on Twitter @LisaWEMU, or email her at

Lisa Barry was a reporter, and host of All Things Considered on 89.1 WEMU.
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