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100 Years of Progress: The Fight Marches On

Carey C. Shuart Women's Archive and Research Collection, Department News

As we unveil our new digital exhibit, 100 Years of Progress: The Fight Marches On, celebrating the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th amendment in these times of COVID-19 and amidst a national call for social justice and equality all across the nation, let’s not forget that the women that brought about much needed change for the right to vote, faced equally great challenges during their own time. For historical context, they were dealing with the aftermath of World War I in which the world was weary of a prolonged conflict as well as the global spread of the 1918 influenza pandemic which would kill an estimated 50 million people all around the world. Texas Suffragist, Minnie Fisher Cunningham, was afflicted from the “Spanish Flu” and would recover as documented in a letter she wrote as President of the Texas Equal Suffrage Association to Mrs. Maud Wood Park in November of 1918.

If we learn anything from history and the work from Suffragettes all across the nation, it is that with grit, determination, and their eyes on the end goal of having the 19th Amendment ratified by Congress, neither a global pandemic nor a World War would derail their efforts. Through their grassroots activism in their communities, to lobbying local, state, and national representatives, to bending the ear of a US President, they would not be denied in their efforts as they would find a way. They would become united in voice and action as an immovable force in which once their momentum has started, nothing would be able to stop nor stand in their way.

The creation of this exhibit has been a unique experience to say the least. Working with public history student, Jennifer Southerland, since this past fall and early spring, we had mapped out and selected many of the materials. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit in late March, putting a stop to our physical process and planning as we could no longer go into the office. Rather than stop all the work and planning that had gone before, Jennifer and I continued to meet weekly via phone, and working collaboratively with online tools such as Zoom, Google Docs, and Google Sheets to arrange the digital materials (including the Minnie Fisher Cunningham Papers and Mary Ellen Ewing vs the Houston School Board) that were available, requesting scans of other materials that had not been digitized, drafting descriptive text for the materials, and brainstorming on potential themes that would emerge from the exhibit.

Flier distributed to inform women on how to register to vote

“Women Voters Attention – When, Where and How to Register,” 1918 flier distributed to inform women on how to register to vote, featured in the current exhibition

With so many face to face gatherings, events, and programs being cancelled due to COVID-19 the thought process in the creation of this digital exhibit has focused on how we could organize the digital materials we already have into a virtual exhibit which is openly accessible to the public whether it be in their homes or home offices. Just as the early suffragists found a way to overcome despite all the odds, we wanted to use the technology at our disposal to still make this happen despite the challenges posed by COVID-19 and social distancing.

In a more normal setting a physical exhibit would be created first with physical materials selected, matted, backed, and captions created before they are arranged and installed into exhibit cases within the library. We’ve had to take the opposite approach of working backwards, creating a digital exhibit first, which we know will be remotely available to the public, and then later this fall install the physical materials into the cases based on the digital exhibit. What we’ve learned is that although the pandemic has changed the logistics and dynamics of how an exhibit may ultimately be put together, we’ve still found a way to virtually document and celebrate the work of Suffragists all across the nation. This exhibit is dedicated in honor of their grit, determination, and spirit of fighting on.

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