- Editorial NoteSuffrage and Beyond: Celebrating Women's History
2020 is the centennial year of the granting of women's suffrage in the United States through state ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. Many diverse celebrations are planned to commemorate the anniversary, from museum exhibits and symposia to workshops and concerts. Indeed, as we write, local singers in Binghamton, New York already performed a concert called "Women of Note," featuring music composed by women and highlighting suffragist songs. The anniversary is a milestone of sorts. Suffrage was a cardinal aim of feminist mobilizations across the globe over the past two centuries, and the topic has spurred a vibrant yet increasingly critical historiography. With this issue, the JWH brings the insights of women's historians to the celebration.
We open with a Special Forum that asks, provocatively, "What Difference Did the Nineteenth Amendment Make?" The Forum is guest edited by Liette Gidlow who proposed, organized, and edited it. She brings together six leading women's historians who write about the topic from different regional, class, and race perspectives. As Gidlow writes in her introduction, the authors extend the moment of 1920 "both backward and forward in time," inserting the suffrage question into the history of US imperial expansion and exploring the meanings of inclusion in—and exclusion from—the nation as the ranks of the voting public expanded. Each contribution to the Forum offers valuable documentary and historiographical details in a length easily adaptable for teaching purposes. Lori D. Ginzberg writes from the perspective of the women advocates themselves. She shows that over the decades, the consistent call for the women's vote reflected different rationales. She explores a "radical reimagining of political, religious, and marital hierarchies" inherent in suffrage claims in the antebellum era. She then examines the compromises suffrage advocates accepted around the turn of the century, a "tactical shift" that required concessions to white supremacy and to notions of women's purity. These political accommodations, Ginzberg writes, made suffrage "mainstream, respectable, and safe," setting the stage for 1920 itself—although the vote "left many things unsorted." Rosalyn Terborg-Penn looks at the outcome for African American women. Terborg-Penn, recently deceased, was a pioneer in the field of African American women's suffrage history, and Gidlow's introduction includes a fitting tribute to her pathfinding scholarship and their collaboration in this Special Forum. In her essay, Terborg-Penn examines the fraught history of suffrage for Black women and men who, soon after [End Page 7] ratification, lost the right to vote in the South. Her main story deals with Black women's formative role in the women's suffrage movement prior to 1920 and their subsequent mobilization strategies for the ballot through the Civil Rights era of the 1960s.
Looking outside the formal borders of the United States, Rumi Yasutake takes us to Hawai'i, at the time a US territory. She focuses on Native Hawaiian women suffragists who seized the vote as a "means to recover their political and economic rights lost in the modern American system," including the right to hold office. In the next contribution by Cathleen D. Cahill, the vote is examined in the longer context of Native American history. Cahill explores the topic through the writings of two Native feminist intellectuals who creatively intertwined citizenship with sovereignty for Native Nations. Gidlow's own essay rounds out the Special Forum. She provides trenchant historical reassessment of the many sides to the "rise of the 'Women's Vote.'" In her telling, suffrage helped revive the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; it transformed a piecemeal strategy known as the "white primary" into a uniform policy that effectively barred "Black voters from local Democratic Party organizations"; turned the Republican Party after 1965 into a white party when southern white conservative Democrats defected to it; and shaped the "racial politics of the feminist movements." Since 1976, the women's vote, Gidlow observes, elevated Black women into a key constituency of the Democratic Party—on full display in the 2018 midterm elections in the Trump era.
This issue also includes three article-length pieces. As in the Special Forum on women's suffrage...