To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution giving women the right to vote, the Atlanta History Center is hosting an exhibition entitled “Any Great Change: The Centennial of the 19th Amendment.”
According to a news release on the exhibition, which opened Aug. 16 and closes in Jan. 31, 2021, it showcases documents as to how women gained the vote and the ways they have used political power over the last century.
The 19th amendment was passed by Congress in 1919 and was ratified in 1920.
A central theme of the exhibition, which is being held at the center’s Swan House, is voting is a right and responsibility of citizenship. It poses two questions to visitors viewing the exhibit: what are your rights and what are your responsibilities?
The exhibition explores the struggle for women’s suffrage as well as the key groups and their strategies.
The Swan House was chosen to host this exhibit because the women’s suffrage leaders, including Emily C. MacDougald and her daughter, Emily Inman, originally owned the home, which was built in 1928.
MacDougald was president of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia, and Inman participated in Atlanta suffrage parades.
The exhibition acknowledges the 19th Amendment is part of a larger story of women’s fight for full citizenship rights. The release stated that in 1853, suffragist and abolitionist Lucretia Coffin Mott proclaimed, “Any great change must expect opposition. ….”
The struggle for women’s rights began at the Seneca Falls Convention in New York in 1848, convened by Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Over the next 72 years, women and men fought for, while others fought against, women’s social and civil rights, including a woman’s right to vote.
By the late 19th century, Georgia suffragists had organized state branches of the larger national organizations that were often formed along ideological political lines. These women and men campaigned around the state, organized partisan support and championed the national organizations.
“The woman suffrage movement is one of many voting rights struggles in the nation’s history,” Jessica VanLanduyt, lead curator for the exhibition and the center’s vice president of guest experiences, said in a news release. “Like other causes, it required activists to organize, articulate and demonstrate for the same goal. More than personal empowerment and equality, they believed that voting rights were essential to the democratic future of the country.
“Voting secures many of the key benefits of a democratic process: I want to have a say. I want representatives that reflect my values and me. I want laws to ensure my equality.”
While the 19th Amendment’s passage gave women the right to vote, obstacles remained.
“There were still barriers to voting and it was difficult for some women and other groups or individuals to exercise that right,” VanLanduyt said. This exhibition acknowledges that the work for access continued.”
“Any Great Change” also addresses the impact Georgia women had on politics since they gained the vote, both as elected officials and organizers. Women received the right to vote through the 19th Amendment in 1920, though white women were the main beneficiaries. Following the amendment’s ratification, African American women’s activities included registering voters, fulfilling public office and fighting for racial equality during the Civil Rights Movement.
The exhibition includes activities and interactives — voting stations, a make-your-own voting rights march poster and voter education and registration resources — meant to inspire and enable people to participate in civic life, for themselves and for others.
In addition to gallery activities and interactives, the exhibition includes photographs, documents and artifacts of the suffrage movement and women’s involvement in politics. An example is a letter from National Women’s Party leader Alice Paul asking for suffragists around the country to join the pickets at the White House, a collection of campaign buttons and the judicial robe of Leah Ward Sears, the Supreme Court of Georgia’s first female judge.
For more information, visit www.atlantahistorycenter.com.