National Women’s History Month, held in March, has an extra significance this year as the United States marks the centennial of women gaining the right to vote.
And groups across Northeast Pennsylvania will get in on the action with special events and exhibits focusing on women’s suffrage.
Women’s rights pioneers fought for decades to gain their sex the right to vote, a dream finally realized when Congress passed the 19th amendment to the Constitution on June 4, 1919, and the states ratified the legislation Aug. 18, 1920.
Dr. Susan Poulson will discuss the subject when she talks about her new book, “Suffrage: The Epic Struggle for Women’s Right to Vote” on Sunday, March 8. The free, hour-long program will take place at 1 p.m. at Waverly Community House, 1115 North Abington Road.
Poulson, a professor of American history at University of Scranton, called the history of the suffrage movement “an epic story.”
“And it’s a good story, and it starts with women who are sort of the boldest women of their era,” she said. “In the 1840s, they are abolitionists, but even they’re too timid to ask for the right to vote. It’s a story of individuals in the beginning who are very brave, including Sojourner Truth. … Then after the Civil War, the movement kind of splits into factions. … And then in the early 1900s, it becomes a mass movement.”
People who have read her book have told Poulson how they never new not only how long it took for women to gain the right to vote but also how much opposition the suffragists faced.
Poulson plans to talk for about half an hour, giving a deeper look at why enfranchising women was controversial at the time, thanks in part to what she called “religious conceptions of womanhood” and scientists, including Charles Darwin, who “contributed to the notion that women were intellectually inferior.”
“In history, I always hope people get a deeper understanding of humanity, and this is just an illustration of social change. … Social norms and societies evolve at different paces, I would say, over new issues, and this simply illustrates how one group that was subordinated in all realms began to break into equality,” Poulson said. “You can apply this to the other movements, (such as) the gay liberation movement.”
Poulson will sign copies of her book, which also will be available for purchase. Registration is not required but is requested and can be done by calling the Comm at 570-586-8191.
Other suffrage events happening in NEPA this month include the Monroe County Women’s Commission’s tribute to its forbears in this year’s Stroudsburg St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Sunday, March 22, at 1 p.m. The group plans to march with history-inspired flags and banners. Participants are encouraged to wear white — the color women historically wore during suffrage events — as well as long skirts if they can and to bring signs focused on women’s rights issues. They should meet in the Stroudsburg High School parking lot by noon. Check the Facebook event page for details.
In Scranton, Steamtown National Historic Site, Lackawanna Avenue and Cliff Street, has partnered with the International Fiber Collaborative to mark the 19th amendment’s centennial with a youth art exhibit now on display. Nearly 500 students ranging from elementary through high school age from 23 schools across Northeast and Eastern Pennsylvania contributed pieces for consideration.
The exhibit remains on display through Thursday, April 30. Steamtown is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., but the hours will change to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in late spring. Visit nps.gov/stea or call 570-340-5200 for details.
Elsewhere in the city, visitors to Lackawanna Historical Society’s Catlin House, 232 Monroe Ave., can catch the exhibit “From Suffragists to Senators: Celebrating 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage.” The exhibit, on display through the end of the year, traces women’s role in politics from the Victorian era through today and includes clothing, accessories and other items from suffragettes and other political women.
The Catlin House is open Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 3 p.m. with guided tours Tuesdays through Saturdays from 1 to 3 p.m. For more information, call 570-344-3841 or visit lackawannahistory.org.
And Scranton will mark the amendment’s centennial with a flag-raising Wednesday, March 18, at 9:30 a.m. at City Hall, 340 N. Washington Ave.
Misericordia University’s Pauly Friedman Art Gallery, meanwhile, focuses on female work just in time for Women’s History Month with its latest exhibit, “Women Artists: Four Centuries of Creativity.”
On display now through May 10, the exhibit includes 37 works on paper from the Reading Public Museum’s permanent collection. Showing noteworthy contributions women made to the arts, the exhibit features pieces by artists from around the world.
The Dallas gallery is open Tuesdays through Thursdays from noon to 7 p.m.; Fridays through Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.; and by appointment. It closes on university holidays. For details, visit misericordia.edu/art or call 570-674-6250.
Poulson said she is seeing lots of suffrage celebrations coming up not just nationally but also most actively on a local level.
“By exposing people to the past, we can appreciate the present more,” she said.
Out of the area
The National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., Philadelphia, will open the exhibit “The 19th Amendment: How Women Won the Vote” on June 10. Featuring nearly 100 artifacts — including a ballot box, “Votes for Women” items, Lucretia Mott’s diary and more — the exhibit will focus on the history leading up to the amendment’s ratification and the leaders involved in the struggle. 215-409-6600; constitutioncenter.org
Visitors to Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York, can learn more about the history of the women’s suffrage movement year-round. The site, operated by the National Park Service, includes a visitor’s center, the Elizabeth Cady Stanton House and other historical properties. 315-568-0024; nps.gov/wori
Caitlin Heaney West is the content editor for Access NEPA and oversees the Early Access blog in addition to working as a copy editor and staff writer for The Times-Tribune. An award-winning journalist, she is a summa cum laude graduate of Shippensburg University and also earned a master’s degree from Marywood University. Caitlin joined the Times-Shamrock family in 2009 and lives in Scranton. Contact: email@example.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; or @cheaneywest