The Once & Only 19th Amendment Centennial Course: A 2020 Blog Preface

Having decided to commit self-torture by designing and teaching a whole new course for my second-to-last course before retirement, I decided to share the experience.  Our investments in courses usually pay off through the successive iterations of teaching them. That won’t happen here. Further, most of the time most of us teach courses for which there are many examples that go before us and after us. There is at least an oral tradition (and now Twitter network) within the community of faculty in the teaching area. Not in this case. A small number of us are doing special courses to mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment, and while these courses won’t be taught again for another century, we are not teaching them just as a time marker. I am already finding there is much to share. 

I intend to post reflections after each class. They are addressed to the community of scholar/teachers of gender politics and women and politics, but also to a wider audience who might be interested in how this focus might have implications for teaching and research further afield in the study of  democracy, democratic systems, and democratization, because I think there are many.  And that is part of the story….. 

The course title explains the point:  The 19th Amendment Centennial: A Lens for Gender & Political Empowerment. This course is a study in the struggles, challenges, contradictions, and processes of democratization – an exploration of democratization that places gender on center stage. There are many vantage points and frameworks to use to understand the story of American democratization. Here, rarely enough, the center is gender and, specifically, women.

In this course we ask how and why the exclusion of women from most rights and obligations of citizenship seemed so normal for so long, and remains so widely unremarkable, by which I mean not worthy even of being remarked upon.  Did the American Revolution, and the grand principles advanced by so many of its leaders, not have any implications for women? How does a group of people – this group of people – who have no political standing attain political rights and empowerment? What does it mean for women to struggle for their rights when women are (as much as men) differentiated and divided by class, religion, race, ethnicity, partisanship, and all the other situations and conditions that divide people? How could men deny their own mothers, sisters, wives, daughters the rights of citizenship and the respect of political standing? How could many women agitate against their own accession to political standing? How did the struggles for women’s full citizenship relate to other things going on in politics? What, other than attitudes toward women, accounts for the politics of their exclusion and the dynamics of the process of including them? And what differences did this Amendment make – and not make?

We will explore some of the common myths relating to the 19th Amendment, for example:

  • Women were not active in politics before the suffrage movement.
  • Gaining the vote was the main, or most important goal of 19th century women’s movements.
  • The woman suffrage movement and, more broadly, women’s rights movements were composed only of middle-class white women.
  • The best-known leaders of the woman suffrage movement were racists intent on denying African Americans (including African American women) their rights and political standing. (But will explore the dynamics and impact of their racism and racism within these movements.)
  • African American women didn’t participate in the woman suffrage or women’s rights movement.
  • Attitudes and decisions about whether to support woman suffrage were only a function of attitudes toward women and gender.
  • Women across the country were granted the right to vote by the 19th Amendment.
  • Women didn’t do anything with their right to vote for decades after they gained the right.
  • There is no lingering legacy of the wholesale exclusion of women, regardless of their race, wealth, or other conditions of their lives, from fully meaningful citizenship and from political standing.

And more.

(Look to the right, to Recent Posts, to connect with the other weeks.)