Cluster Conversation: The Suffrage Centennial: Possibilities for Intersectional Memorializing and Coalition-Building

The year 2020 will be an important one for feminist citizens and scholars alike. Not only is 2020 an election year, but it also marks the 100-year anniversary of the 19th-amendment—the year women won the right to vote. This meeting of the moments is at once an opportunity and a concern for those interested in feminist politics and feminist coalition building. Indeed, there is an opportunity because this anniversary moment could galvanize and embolden present-day feminists by remembering a moment of collective action and political triumph. There is, however, a very real danger. The suffrage movement and feminist politics from that time on, in fact, have been marked by exclusivity and racism. For example, black women were not invited to the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, and they were routinely segregated from suffrage activism and events. Furthermore, white suffragists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Carrie Chapman Catt courted the southern vote by overtly expressing racist remarks, with Catt infamously stating that “White supremacy will be strengthened, not weakened, by women’s suffrage.” These are all examples—and there are more—of how, as Angela Davis has written, “the woman suffrage campaign accepted the fatal embrace of white supremacy.”

Given the stakes and complexity of this moment, figures from Brent Staples to Ann Gordon have called attention to this issue, calling the American public to think critically about what a centennial celebration should look like and do. For example, in her New York Times opinion piece titled “How to Celebrate a Complicated Win for Women,” Gordon asks, “Can we celebrate a transformation that broke men’s monopoly on political power while we simultaneously face up to ways that the ugliest aspects of American history influenced how citizens achieved this victory and how they behaved afterward?”

This call for papers poses this question to the Peitho readership. As scholars of rhetoric and public memory invested in intersectionality and coalition building, how might we envision or evaluate public memory projects that engage the suffrage centennial? How are we bringing or might we bring this question to our communities and to our classes and students? What projects and course sequences are we, as feminist teachers, creating or envisioning to engage the suffrage centennial from an intersectional perspective? And how might we cast the centennial as a moment for coalition building—one that creates positive feminist momentum as the 2020 election draws near?

For the purposes of this special section of the Winter 2020 issue, we are looking for short, 2,500- to 5,000-word essays, that take up the impact, promise, and troubles of suffrage and suffrage memorialization with the goal of fostering new conversations for the next 100 years. Please submit your essay for the “Centennial Cluster” by June 15 to Jess Enoch at jenoch1@umd.edu. Please note “centennial cluster” in the subject title of your email and your document title.

Selections will be made through a review process by July 1.  Peitho will publish the cluster in the Winter 2020 issue.