Rochester Institute of Technology is marking the centennial of women’s right to vote with yearlong events that give new context to the historical struggle amidst the backdrop of a contentious presidential election.
RIT celebrates the 19th Amendment, equal rights, and the power of voting with “Moving Forward: Suffrage Past, Present, and Future.” The special programming includes talks, voter registration and pre-election events and exhibits. Spring programming will continue to focus on voting rights in the United States and globally and extending the celebration of Susan B. Anthony’s 200th birthday.
Even in the midst of the pandemic, it is important for RIT to share in this history, especially since Rochester was a backdrop for the suffragist movement and has a rich social justice tradition, notes Twyla Cummings, chair of the Moving Forward committee and RIT associate provost and dean of graduate education.
“Given everything that is going on in this country, this is an extremely important time to be focused on the importance of exercising the right to vote,” Cummings said. “This is an opportunity for reflection and learning about the history and the sacrifices that have been made so that we have this right, and so that our students know it is a privilege and a duty to go to the polls and cast their vote.”
Reflecting on the history of voting rights and political participation is also important at a time when people are concerned about voter suppression, said Tamar Carroll, RIT associate professor and chair of the history department, and co-chair of the Moving Forward committee. She points to the undermining of absentee ballots as a legitimate means of voting during a pandemic as a loud reminder that voting rights require protection.
Carroll invited Johns Hopkins University historian Martha Jones to speak about her new book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All on Sept. 23.
“The 19th amendment is an important milestone, but it was only a partial victory in that largely white women gained the right to vote whereas black women, Native American women, and Puerto Rican women were still disenfranchised,” Carroll said. “The roll back of the 1965 Voting Rights Act has again imperiled the ability of all Americans to vote.”
Carroll adds, “This is not just a narrative of upward progress and a victory that is achieved forever; this is a story with multiple waves and there is push back as well as progress.”
A sampling of Moving Forward events planned for the fall includes:
- The Suffragist City Parade: A Social Justice March Celebrating Hope, Courage, and Change, organized by the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House. The parade will broadcast at 6 p.m. Sept. 20, and features an RIT float showing the university’s support of voting equality.
- The fall keynote lecture will be held from 10-11:30 a.m. Sept. 23. Speakers include Cummings, Carroll, RIT President David Munson, and scholar Martha Jones, who is the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and professor of history at Johns Hopkins University. Jones is also the president of the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians. She will talk about, “Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.” The webinar is free and open to the public and can be accessed on Zoom.
- Various voter registration and pre-election events, debates, and a polling station on campus. More details to follow.
- Discussion of Iron Jawed Angels, the HBO original movie film, 10:10 a.m. Oct. 30. More information to follow.
- “Changemakers: Rochester Women Who Changed the World” exhibition at Rochester Museum and Science Center, with featured speaker Kathryn Muranos Santos, director of Collections and Exhibitions at the Rochester Museum and Science Center, at 12:30-1:45 p.m. Nov. 12. The exhibit includes content created by RIT alumnae.
- Digital exhibition of historical suffrage posters from the Harvard Schlesinger Library, starting Nov. 2. More information to follow.
“Moving Forward: Suffrage Past, Present, and Future” is sponsored by RIT’s Office of the President, Office of the Provost, Office of Graduate Education, Student Affairs, Division of Diversity and Inclusion, Government and Community Relations, College of Liberal Arts, AdvanceRIT, and the Women’s and Gender Studies Program.
For more information, contact Susan Gawlowicz, at email@example.com, or on Twitter: @SGawlowicz.
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