Ohio University

Authors @ Alden: The Midwest and Women's Right to Vote

Authors @ Alden: The Midwest and Women's Right to Vote
Graphic design by Herbert Frimpong/Ohio University Libraries

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Dr. Sara Egge of Centre College will visit Ohio University on Wednesday, Feb. 19 and give a talk on the fourth floor of Alden Library from 3:00-4:30 p.m. about her latest book, “Woman Suffrage and Citizenship in the Midwest, 1870-1920” as part of the Authors @ Alden series. The event will be part of the celebration surrounding the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which extended the right to vote to all U.S. citizens, regardless of their sex.

Egge, who teaches history at Centre, will discuss how the fight for women’s suffrage worked by taking a local view of the campaigns that happened all over the country. Her focus on the Midwest has allowed her to take a unique approach to examining how the right to vote for women was actually obtained.

“[National] suffrage leaders often didn’t have a lot to say about the Midwest, or what they say is not very flattering,” she said. “But I think what we often miss is that the most difficult thing to do is convince your neighbors and friends of something that is incredibly radical, and women’s suffrage was incredibly radical at the time.” 

The event is part of the broader commemoration of women’s suffrage that is happening at the Libraries. The celebration will include a variety of events throughout the spring semester, such as suffrage-related movie showings at The Athena, Transcription-a-Thons where students can help transcribe documents from the suffrage movement to make them more accessible and hands-on craft sessions where participants can “modernize their suffrage sash.”

“Our two biggest events are the Authors@Alden with Dr. Sara Egge and the special collections exhibit on the fourth floor of Alden: ‘Women Pioneers: Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage,’” Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian, said. The exhibit will be displayed along with the “Ohio Women Vote: 100 Years of Change,” traveling exhibit on the fourth floor of Alden Library for all of spring semester. 

Dr. Katherine Jellison, who will discuss women’s suffrage in the Midwest with Egge at the Authors @ Alden talk, is a professor and chair of the history department at OHIO. Jellison first met Egge at the annual conference for the Agricultural History Society when Egge was an undergraduate and remembers being impressed with Egge’s research skills.

“[Egge’s] research is very thorough,” she said. “She writes very well, and she knows the larger literature of women’s history, the suffrage movement and midwestern history very well.”

Jellison, who has written books about women and gender herself, said she’s interested in talking with Egge about her research process, as well as women’s suffrage in the Midwest and the lessons that people can take from the activism within the suffrage movement.

Egge and Jellison both mentioned that although the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment is something that should be celebrated, it should be kept in mind that it has only been 100 years since women got the right to vote.

“If you start to think that it’s only been 100 years, then that means women could not vote in the United States for a long, long period of time,” Egge said. “These things are more temporary, more fragile than we think.”  

As women in the Midwest tried to gain support for the right to vote, they used some tactics that would like be considered ethically questionable by today’s standards. At the time of the suffrage movement, the Midwest was home to a great number of immigrants, many of whom had the right to vote before they gained citizenship. Egge pointed out that nativism drove the conversation about suffrage with many people in rural midwestern communities who didn’t like the fact that male immigrants could vote before native-born women could. 

“Suffragists gained this political identity and this recognition in their communities for the work that they were doing, but at the same time [the suffragists] turned around and said, ‘Well we should vote and these immigrants shouldn’t…’ So I’ll discuss that in the talk,” she said.

Egge said that the talk will appeal to anyone who is interested in political science, law, history, social justice, women’s rights and anyone who is open to thinking more critically about the Constitution and the rights that it claims to protect.

Intrator hopes that the information and events that the Libraries is providing encourage students to reflect on the idea of civic duty and what our individual rights and responsibilities are against the backdrop of the 100th anniversary of the suffragists’ success, while engaging with the Libraries at the same time. 

“We want to offer [students] opportunities for learning and engaging that are different from their day-to-day class and University experience,” she said. “We want to introduce them to original materials, to a broad range of ideas, perspectives and experiences, and to conversations that are happening across campus, in the community and beyond.” 

Egge also hopes that the conversation will encourage people to recognize the importance of the amendment and its larger ideas about what it means to be a citizen. 

“There’s this broader conversation about rights and citizenship that might interest anybody,” Egge said, “and certainly there’s lots of conversations that people are having today about immigrants, women’s rights, gender, identity [and] the guarantees of the Constitution, so I think anyone who is interested in those things will find this talk to be quite compelling.”

Light refreshments will be provided at the talk, which is free and open to the public. To request accommodations for the event, please contact Jen Harvey.