The Long & Winding Road to Women’s Rights
Updated February, 2019
As Women’s History Month returns in March, 2019, students can learn about the thousands of suffragists who marched down Pennsylvania Avenue on March 3, 1913 (24 photos). Many of the 500,000 spectators were not supportive of the nonviolent protest, injuring 200 marchers and sending 100 of them to the hospital.
During March 2013 thousands gathered in Washington, DC to commemorate those marchers who took the struggle for women’s right to vote from the states to the federal government, rallying for a constitutional amendment. That march was dwarfed by the multiple marches by women and their supporters around the world on January 21, 2017.
Winning the Right to Vote
Concentrating on the women’s voting rights struggle in the United States, students can learn about Alice Paul and the other suffragists who picketed the White House and were imprisoned (and at times force-fed during hunger strikes) in the years following the 1913 march.
History.com provides a brief video recounting the imprisonment of suffrage leader Lucy Burns and notes that “Burns served more jail time during her six sentences than any other suffrage prisoner, and she helped instigate hunger strikes to protest the suffragists’ treatment.” The Library of Congress quotes another suffragist on forced feeding: “The drums of the ears seem to be bursting and there is a horrible pain in the throat and breast. The tube is pushed down twenty inches; [it] must go below the breastbone.”
News of the women’s treatment as well as changing tactics in following years helped lead to ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. For example,
The year 1915 marked a whole new level of activism for the suffrage movement in the U.S. Suffragist used new strategies like casting the Women’s Liberty Bell, creating the torch of Freedom, and launching a flotilla of woman suffrage boats in New York Harbor. Still, male voters in all four prominent eastern states (Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) rejected the idea of women having the right to vote. It is inspiring to note however, that just two years later, in 1917, New Yorkers launched yet another battle that succeeded. It was a victory that gave momentum to the national amendment just three years later.” …from The National Women’s History Project’s 2015 Gazette
The National Women’s History Project (now the National Women’s History Alliance) presents themes each year as the group recognizes women leaders. In 2019 the theme is Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence. The annual gazette offers biographical sketches of women on the front lines of issues of race, national origin, disability, gender identity, homelessness, socioeconomic status and others. Previously available as a PDF, the 2019 gazette is available via mail, with one copy being free.
Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business “The 2017 theme for National Women’s History Month honors women who have successfully challenged the role of women in both business and the paid labor force. Women have always worked, but often their work has been undervalued and unpaid.” National Women’s History Project
The 2016 theme was Working to Form a More Perfect Union: Honoring Women in Public Service and Government. Looking over the brief bios of women being recognized in 2016 – from Puerto Rican Isabel Gonzalez to Senator Barbara Mikulski – will give students a glimpse of the range of leaders’ accomplishments from the 1800’s until today.
In 2015 the NWHP celebrated 19th and 20th century women whose work ranged from historian to musician. The NWHP website provides an essay outlining the development of Women’s History Month beginning in the 1970’s.
In a brief video made before the 2012 election, people of all ages reflected on the effects of the 19th amendment. The Turning Point Suffragist Memorial Association, which produced the video, hosts biographical sketches of suffragists.
Students and teachers can register at the Newseum to access images of primary resources showing women using the First Amendment to push for political rights. The collection of front pages from suffrage journals and city newspapers show the negative response to abuse of women during the 1913 march in Washington from some newspapers, as well as the New York Times’ decision to bury news of the march in a story about Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration preparations.
The publications give students a view of contemporary events surrounding the suffragist movement. The Newseum also hosts a multi-media module Women, Their Rights and Nothing Less.
Women’s History Museum Spans Eras
A recent NYT article, Early Feminists Issued a Declaration of Independence. Where Is It Now? by Liz Robbins and Sam Roberts, not only reviews the history around the writing of the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments, but also reveals how current historians interact.
Women Scientists through History
AAAS’s Science NetLinks hosts a Women’s History Month collection which highlights women in science as well as puts women in the context of science. Look down to “Tools” for most of the middle grades resources, including 4000 years of women scientists and mathematicians in brief sketches from the University of Alabama’s Department of Physics & Astronomy and 20 recent women leaders from NASA.
The Biography Channel provides sketches of varying length on well-known women scientists, many of them American and some with videos.
In addition to honoring women scientists of the last 100 years, including Nobel Prize winners, the National Women’s History Project’s 2013 Gazette featured student scientists who have achieved recognition as well as student programs run by women’s organizations. On page 3 the gazette highlights Deepika Kurup, a then 14-year-old New Hampshire resident who developed a solar powered water purification jug. In addition, the Gazette reports on PBS’s SciGirls, a show with tween girls enjoying STEM projects, as well as the Girl Scouts’ STEM focus. NWHP’s gazettes include extensive shopping guides.
History Centered Resources
Students who want to understand the place of women in military endeavors can start with Women Warriors from 3500 BC to the 20th Century, a website by Nicky Saunders. The brief descriptions Saunders has gathered by century not only give a very wide overview of women fighters but also can serve as a jumping off point for further study.
In the NYT article, The Many Roles of Women in War: Sniper, Pilot, Death Camp Guard by Navy veteran Andrea N. Goldstein, students can discover how women in and out of service, in the US and beyond, responded to WW II.
To learn about women in the US military, students can study the resources of the Women In Military Service For America Memorial with a timeline, highlights of women making history serving the US, and an archive of brief essays ranging from actions by minority groups to outstanding individuals. A 2011 page of statistics lists women serving in each branch, the number who fought and died in previous wars and actions. Students can learn how to gather oral histories and read a collection of them.
Elsewhere, the Library of Congress hosts Women’s History Month for Teachers, with links to several federal agencies. as well as an American Memory collection of primary resources. In the Census Bureau’s 2018 Women’s History Month “Facts for Features” students will find overall stats on employment, education, businesses, and more, including links to more detailed information. For students who want a sense of place to amplify their image of historical women in America, the National Park Service provides a 2018 website on women’s history in America as well as a detailed park-related webpage.
The White House hosts First Ladies’ biographies. The US House of Representatives offers detailed essays on the four waves of women elected to the body and on individuals members. The US Senate includes a collection of brief biographies of the 51 women who have served in the Senate along with a few essays, one focusing on Margaret Chase Smith who was the first woman to serve in both houses.
In 2013, PBS premiered MAKERS: Women Who Make America. The documentary series traces the women’s rights effort decade by decade, recounting advances and failures from 1950 onward. Some of the program’s website clips, featuring a wide range of events and individuals from Mae Jemison to Michelle Rhee, may be useful in showing the challenges women faced in the mid 20th century and their efforts to overcome them. PBS provides resources for educators. Teachers may want to preview content.
A Look at Women in the Arts
To integrate the arts into literacy, visit the National Museum of Women in the Arts which opened in Washington, DC, in 1987. In addition to the See for Yourself cards featuring images and general questions (including a collection of Madonnas), take a look at ABC- arts, books, creativity. That curriculum for fourth and fifth graders offers a series of detailed lessons, each featuring a medium, which together can result in students creating their own art books. The curriculum could be a project to plan during a break or over the summer.
Women’s history on social media
To find Women’s History Month on Twitter, follow #wmnhist, #STEMfem. Also, @Feministory. Students may be gleaning some history and current events ideas @teenvogue shared by the magazine. Among the Pinterest collections is one from the Smithsonian.
Front page: A suffragist wearing costume of “Columbia” in front of the Treasury Building, March 3, 1913, Washington, D.C, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-70382
24 photos: 100 Years Ago, The 1913 Women’s Suffrage Parade by Alan Taylor, The Atlantic, March 1, 2013.
Sally Ride, Photo from NASA
President Obama Signing the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act in 2009. White House video.