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Westminster College commemorates 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment

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Posted on Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Westminster College, one of the nation’s first colleges to open its doors to women, joins the country in commemorating the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, which ensured the constitutional protection for women’s right to vote.

Westminster College President Dr. Kathy Brittain Richardson urged the campus community to wear white, purple or gold—the colors of the National Women’s Party in the early 20th century—on Wednesday, Aug. 26. Richardson will also introduce the campus showing “Iron Jawed Angels,” a film about the women’s suffrage movement, at 9 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31, at the Anderson Amphitheater. Westminster’s Speech and Debate Club will offer a readers’ theater on the theme of voting rights on Constitution Day, Sept. 17.

“As we work and learn at an institution founded on the principle of the equality of all people, let’s join together to celebrate this historic anniversary,” said Richardson.

By law or by custom in the 19th century, a college education was generally afforded to men only. But in 1852, just four years after the first Women’s Rights Convention of 1848, Westminster was founded and granted entry to all people, regardless of sex, race, ethnicity or religion.

Not only was Westminster at the forefront of the women’s movement, but Pennsylvania, on June 24, 1919, was the seventh—and one of the earliest states in the nation—to ratify the 19th Amendment. Tennessee, in August 1920, became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, enabling the Aug. 26, 1920, passage of the law that finally gave women the right to vote.

“Historical anniversaries like this one remind us not to take for granted the rights and privileges we have and of the women and men who pushed to give more citizens access to voting rights,” said Dr. Angela Lahr, associate professor of history at Westminster College and co-coordinator of the commemorative activities on campus. “There is a danger in treating anniversaries like fairy tale endings, though. Even after the 19th Amendment was ratified, there was work to do to advance voting rights since many women and men were still denied the vote. I hope that this anniversary will remind all of us how important it is to protect each other’s right to vote.”

Co-coordinator Dr. Shannon Smithey, professor of political science, agrees.

“We need to celebrate our democracy rather than take it for granted.  It’s an amazing gift to be able to control your own destiny through the ballot box,” Smithey said, adding that the 100th anniversary comes at a pivotal point as ongoing acts of voter suppression throughout the world are still happening today. “The quality of democracy is under attack throughout the world. Voter suppression tactics are actively being pursued here in the U.S.  We have to stay vigilant if we want keep our power of self-government.”

Last fall and spring, Lahr, Smithey and another co-coordinator Dr. Patricia Clark, associate professor of history, planned and hosted events leading up to the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s adoption. A suffrage tea with presentations about voter rights was held last October. In February, three Westminster history majors presented “The Life, Times and Trial of Susan B. Anthony” to the League of Women Voters of Lawrence County. Other events planned for the year were sidelined due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Above, Westminster College Professor of Political Science Dr. Shannon Smithey, right, and a student wear purple and white—two of the colors of the National Woman's Party—in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment on Wednesday, Aug. 26. Below, Westminster College Associate Professor of History Dr. Angela Lahr instructs a sea of white, purple and gold in one of her classes.