“Are Women People?” The Journey for Voting Rights

July 15-20, Boise State University

The Idaho Humanities Council’s 2019 weeklong summer institute, titled “Are Women People?” The Journey for Voting Rights, was held July 15-20 on the campus of Boise State University.

Participants received lodging and meals, texts, and the opportunity for optional college credit.  Scholar presenters included Katherine Aiken, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Idaho, Amy Canfield, Associate Professor of History at Lewis-Clark State College and IHC Executive Committee member, Janis Johnson, Assistant Professor of English, University of Idaho and IHC Board member, Maggie Rehm, Women’s and Gender Studies, University of Idaho, and Rebecca Scofield, Assistant Professor of History, University of Idaho.

 The Women’s Suffrage Movement, edited by Sally Roesch Wagner, was the institute text.  Wagner presented the keynote.  Susan Swetnam presented a public talk on how women’s clubs helped foster the suffrage movement.  David Adler presented a public talk on securing passage of the 19th amendment.  He presented a talk on the Reed v. Reed Supreme Court case to the teachers the next day.

As the nation prepares to commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, this institute offered an in-depth study of how women achieved this right to vote.  Teachers explored the many stories of women’s suffrage, paying attention to different strategies used, rationales given, and outcomes achieved.  The struggle for women’s suffrage lasted over a hundred years and in many ways is still going on when we consider obstacles that have been present even since 1920 for different groups.  There was no one journey for the fight for women’s votes, even after the 19th Amendment.  This institute examined not only the history leading up to the passage of women’s voting rights, but also how those rights were not equally exercised or available to all women even after 1920.

The fight for women’s suffrage brought up questions of race, class, and ethnicity, and forced both its supporters and its opponents to recognize the gaps in voting equality.  When presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson promised to bring the “Government back to the people” in a 1912 campaign speech, suffragist and writer Alice Duer Miller responded with the question, “Are Women People, Mr. President?”  Her question, asked frequently in her weekly New York Tribune column and in a later book, pointed out the discrepancies and hypocrisies in a nation based on liberty, where a person’s sex was one of many barriers to voting.  From well-known suffrage leaders to local activists, this institute helped provide a face to the larger movement, while examining the complexities.

Sample Comments:

I applied for this institute out of a fundamental desire to get to know the history of the women’s vote at a deeper level. I am coming away feeling incredibly confident in that new knowledge and feeling empowered amongst so many people studying the same thing. It reminded me of that passion to learn that I used to have.

The institute was fantastic. I think it will be the most directly applicable to my curriculum of all the institutes I have attended. The topic is immensely important, and the information presented was stellar.

As with past institutes, this was not just beneficial with the material (which was extremely beneficial) but also with the personal impact of the information and the camaraderie with colleagues and the renewed hype for the state of education and our students!

Thank you so much for this opportunity. I am leaving so inspired and ready to share all of this inspiration with my students and staff. This is so well organized and a wonderful chance to immerse myself in deep topics with intelligent peers and challenging conversations and ideas. Wonderful job IHC!

I love that the Idaho Humanities Council puts on these teacher institutes.  I love getting out of my comfort zone and just learning for learning sake.  The IHC does an amazing job with these institutes and we are so lucky in Idaho to have this opportunity.

As always,  this was a great institute. The scholars were great and I am taking lots of great insights back to my students.