To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, the Brace Center for Gender Studies student and adult advisory boards organized a presentation for All-School Meeting (ASM) last Friday, January 17, in conjunction with the History Department. Organizers Flavia Vidal, Instructor in English[a] and Director of the Brace Center for Gender Studies, and Miriam Villanueva, Instructor in History, researched and presented the history of the 19th Amendment at ASM alongside colleagues Midori Ishizuka and Alexandra Booth, both Instructors in History.
Several of the ASM presenters spoke on the limitations of the 19th Amendment in regards to its accessibility. Villanueva acknowledged, for example, that while white women were granted the right to vote in 1920, Indigenous women were not given the right to vote until 1962, despite having held positions of political power within their communities prior to European colonization. [b]
“We have been working on this for a very long time. Our purpose today is to celebrate the major milestones that many United States women made in the 1920s to earn the right to vote. At the same time, we want to complicate the narrative and honor the women in the U.S. and abroad who did not attain the right to vote until much later,” said Villanueva during the ASM.
According to Vidal, the presentation was meant to kick off the Brace Center’s “100 Ways to Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment” project. The “100 Ways” project will include several events over the course of 2020 celebrating the ratification of the 19th Amendment.
Emma Slibeck ’20, member of the Brace Center Student Advisory Board, was responsible for the original idea behind the “100 Ways” project, which will include events such as a “transcribathon,”—where members of the community will digitize all the documents from Abbot Academy, tea in the McKeen Room on Abbot Campus with former Abbot graduates, as well as a potential, though not yet confirmed, masquerade ball featuring the faces of prominent women and contributors to voter rights movements. Several other events will reference Abbot Academy, the 19th Amendment, and feminism at large, including the flying of the Abbot Academy flag in Flagstaff Courtyard.
Noting a need for more intersectional representation in the narrative of the 19th Amendment, Slibeck decided to bring the idea of the “100 Ways” project to the Brace Center Student Advisory Board. According to Slibeck, her goal was to both highlight lost perspectives in the conversation about voter rights and also to celebrate the milestone of the 19th Amendment’s centennial.
“There are so many pitfalls and narratives in the 19th Amendment that get lost because voter representation is still under attack today for a lot of minority groups. I really wanted to call attention to that, but also celebrate women and feminism …I kind of had this crazy idea to do 100 moments celebrating 100 years of the 19th Amendment, so I went to Dr. Vidal with this and I was like, ‘Hey, what if we did this for the 19th Amendment [anniversary]?’ It was one of those things I love about being on the Brace board and working with Dr. Vidal—she was like, ‘Absolutely, let’s do it,’” said Slibeck.
Vidal hopes that the ASM and the “100 Ways” project will be an opportunity to put the history of the 19th Amendment in the spotlight. By teaching students about the history of the struggle for female voting rights in the United States, the ASM will set the stage for future events in the rest of 2020, according to Vidal.
“I really hope that this is an opportunity … for [people] to learn more about the history. It is such an important history and even here when we do so much good work, I think bringing perspectives that embrace equity and inclusion [is important]. It’s hard to have that kind of time to engage with this topic. I hear from my colleagues and students that, even in history classes sometimes, there’s not enough time to go into depth into these topics,” said Vidal in an interview with The Phillipian.
Niya Harris ’21, a member of the Brace Center Student Advisory Board, felt empowered by seeing more representation of women at ASM. Harris read Sojourner Truth’s famed “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech as a part of the programming during ASM, and hopes to talk more about the role that gender and bias plays on Andover’s campus in the future.
“I think there’s kind of a stigma [towards talking about gender]. In my English classes, I feel like we get it very often, people are like, ‘Ah, I don’t wanna talk about that,’ and they kind of keep [the conversation] surface level. I hope that these events get people to kind of think about it in the deeper nuances of things, and how maybe they can analyze if they have any prejudices towards women or how they contribute to sexism in their own way,” said Harris.
During the ASM, Vidal shared her experience as an immigrant to the United States and how she wasn’t able to vote, despite paying taxes and being an active participant in her community. Although she is now able to vote, the feeling of disenfranchisement that she experienced during that period made last Friday’s ASM particularly special to her.
“When I moved to the US, I spent many years on a student visa, and then as a permanent resident. I couldn’t vote here either. Not even in local elections for school boards in my own town, even though I paid my federal, state, and local taxes and my children attend the local schools. Being able to vote and have my voice included in the political process was actually a big part of why I made the decision to [apply] for my [United States] citizenship. So, this ASM is really special for the feminist in me and for the voter in me,” said Vidal during her speech.[c]
Co-Presidents Sebastian Romero ’20 and Shahinda[d][e] Bahnasy ’20 shared the history of Abbot Academy and Phillips Academy’s involvement with the 19th Amendment. Morgan Davis ’22 noted how this portion of the ASM “confronted how neither of the schools…ever talked about [women’s suffrage] that much,” and hoped that future generations would be proud of what they[f][g][h] feel is an active investment in positivity and current events.
“[I feel like] our reflection of 100 years in the past gives us a perspective of when we are the people who are being looked [back] on [in the future]. We would want those people to see us being active and … spreading messages of positivity and not just ignoring a lot of the problems that are happening. I think it’s gonna be great to encourage some people to get more invested in current events and start conversations,” said Davis.