Grout Museum celebrates women vote centennial with "Remember the Ladies"
by Pat Kinney
on Thursday, February 6, 2020
"Life is too large to hang out a sign: 'For Men Only.' "
--Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, D-Texas, (1936-1996)
Voting is not ancient history. We are all too aware of that, especially in a presidential election year.
But, perhaps some of us take the right to vote for granted.
There was a time, not that long ago, when half the adult population of the United States did not have the right to vote.
The Grout Museum District is remembering that time, the struggles to change that -- and beyond.
The Grout's exhibit' "Remember the Ladies: The Path to Suffrage," commemorates the 100th anniversary of adoption of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. The exhibit is open now through March 2021, concurrent with the State of Iowa's "Hard Won/Not Done" campaign commemorating the centennial of women's suffrage.
Visitors will be greeted with an introductory video and welcome by Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, an explanation of the significance of the exhibit and famous quotes from historic women, read by their present-day contemporaries.
The exhibit features a period home of the 1920s, depicting then-conventional female roles; a suffrage campaign wagon, a newspaper office, voting machine, video footage of suffrage marches, period clothing and an opportunity to cast a vote for one of the current presidential candidates on a touchscreen - and see the results.
A hundred years may seem a long time to some, but it is not when one considers it in terms of generations and the ongoing struggle of gender equity. Only in the past six years has Iowa elected its first female federal legislators and governor.
Gov. Reynolds was appointed Iowa's first woman governor in 2017 when her predecessor, Terry Branstad, was appointed ambassador to China. Gov. Reynolds was elected in her own rite in 2018.
Only just last year did Iowa's congressional delegation achieve an equal balance of men and women.
When Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne took their seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, joining U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, elected in 2014, Iowa had three men and three women in the House and Senate for the first time ever.
The milestone, perhaps long overdue in the eyes of many, received little public attention. It occurred, perhaps appropriately, exactly 100 years after the 19th Amendment passed the U.S House and Senate and was forwarded on to the states for ratification.
Iowa became the 10th state to ratify the amendment on July 2, 1919. It became the law of the land when No. 36, Tennessee, ratified it in October 1920, giving the amendment a three-fourths majority of the states at that time.
Our country is 243 years old. Women have had the vote less than half of that time. It took less time, though at a bloody price, to abolish slavery in the United States than it did for women to win the vote.
It is even more humbling personally when I view this fact in the context of my own family. Both my grandmothers , and most of my aunts, were born without the right to vote in this country. My mother, who passed away Dec. 12, was born just two years after women won the vote.
My paternal grandmother, who farmed with my grandfather and raised eight children, was only able to cast her first ballot in an election at age 40. My sister, my female school classmates and many of the women whom I've had the privilege to work alongside, were born less than 40 years after women won the right to vote.
Many people doubtless can similarly think back on their own family members.
In keeping with that, the Museum is also offering the public an opportunity to honor the women in their lives past and present by purchasing and having their names printed on large commemorative blue-and-gold rosette buttons similar to those suffragists wore. They will go on a recognition wall at the entrance to the exhibit. The rosettes cost $19, in honor of the 19th Amendment and may be here.
"Remember the Ladies" is sponsored by Pauline R. Barrett Charitable Foundation, Veridian Credit Union, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., Gallagher Family Foundation, Mediacom, Dr. Judith Finkelstein, Bob & Nancy Neymeyer, Standard Distribution and media sponsors KWWL & Townsquare Media.
Many of later generations may think about our right to vote no more than they contemplate the air they breathe. But it is almost as precious as that very air -- the most basic power, right and duty of citizens in our democracy.