2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed and protected certain women’s constitutional right to vote. To appreciate the significant evolution of women’s right to vote, you need to respect the intersectionality of the 19th Amendment.
“When we take an intersectional approach” to understanding the 19th Amendment “we pay attention to race, sex and class,” knowing “that these are all markers of identity that impact people differently,” said Jane Scimeca, professor of history at Brookdale Community College.
“Unfortunately, the traditional narrative that historians prepared about suffrage was not intersectional. Women in the early women’s rights movement failed to see how their own problems with rights and equality and freedom were linked with the problems of low-income women and Black women. We cannot go forward with the women’s movement without recognizing the work and talking about all the work that native women did, and African-American women did, and lower-income women did,” Scimeca said.
“When suffrage was ratified in 1920, it left out Black women and native women and other women of color facing more obstacles to exercising their right to vote. We can say it’s regrettable but not defining. If we acknowledge the importance of the work of Black women leaders and activists, we can move forward; we can have a women’s movement that includes everybody,” she said.
Learning more about the intersections of the 19th Amendment is part of a larger project that began last summer.
“The Women in Learning and Leadership academic program was approached to assist… local hero and artist, Brian Hanlon, who was donating a sculpture to Brookdale in honor of the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” said Roseanne Alvarez, professor of English at Brookdale Community College and WILL: Women in Learning and Leadership coordinator.
“The students wanted to take up that charge and challenge to learn about women that represent this underrepresented work that continued and continues today framed on the premise, that intersection of social justice,” Alvarez said, noting that as students planned and researched, they learned.
Pioneers like Jovita Idar and Dolores Huerta drew the attention of the former president of the Women in Learning and Leadership. “When I heard about this woman, I automatically thought, this is a woman that I could look up to that is Mexican-American that has Mexican roots through her blood,” said Yeimi Hernandez, past president of WILL: Women in Learning and Leadership.
“I had never heard of women like her; during my history classes, all you would hear is about men, not women, especially not women of color,” Hernandez said. “This is what I needed, a woman who I can look up to because as an undocumented student, a woman of color, and Mexican… I want to be able to do something. Whether it be translating for a doctor’s appointment or a lawyer’s consultation, I can help my community.”
Another member of Women in Learning and Leadership discovered an amazing businesswoman to investigate. “Only a year after being employed by the United States government, she broke yet another barrier becoming the first Chinese woman and possibly ethnic women to vote in the United States election,” said Amanda Zelevansky, an 18-year-old business administration major from Howell, NJ, and current president of WILL: Women in Learning and Leadership.
Born in San Francisco in 1887, Tye Leung Schulze has a long, accomplished history as an advocate for the Chinese community, interpreter, and civil servant. However, it’s her obituary that draws Zelevansky’s attention, mostly because it doesn’t mention she was the first Chinese American to pass the civil service exam. Instead, she’s listed as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother, “discrediting the fact that she was an educated woman who had important things to say,” Zelevansky said.
So how are women represented today? “The 117th Congress is breaking records because there’s a record number of women serving in Congress. 24 percent of the Senate and 27.4 percent of the House of Representatives are female,” said Megan Friedman, an 18-year-old political science major, from Farmingdale.
“Despite being record numbers, it’s still not proportional to the population of women in America. Women make up half the population of the United States, yet only 26.7 percent of Congress. When you think about the disproportion between female and male representatives in US politics…the lack of parody is not because women vote less than men…but it’s because there are institutional and social factors that hinder a woman’s entry and election into political office,” Friedman said.
“Your vote is your voice,” Scimeca said.
A national nonpartisan project helps students register to vote and understand current issues and events. “The campus election engagement project is an organization which promotes voting education and civic engagement, specifically among college demographics,” said Linda Truong, an 18-year-old psychology major from Tinton Falls.
“We are reflecting on women who essentially made history, but we tend to forget that we are also making history as of right now, too, and we are also responsible for setting an example for the future,” Truong said. “Our voices are our strength, weapon, and power, and we have the ability to do great things with them…besides using your voice.
“Social media is a really good outlet, especially if you want to spread a message…you can also educate yourself and help educate others,” Truong said.
“The 19th Amendment happened because people were civically engaged, to put it super-simple, woman realized that they were not being given access to the same rights with that awareness. They took their own daily action, they used their voice, they educated themselves, and they also became involved—something that we should never take for granted,” she said.
“What are you going to do to be involved in your community, what are you going to do, tell people who need it, and what are you going to do, ultimately, to make history and have an impact on the future?” Truong asked.
Brookdale’s Bankier Library is ready to help students learn and become active in the voting process. “My favorite thing to do is to create research guides for students, faculty, and even the community. I’ve created one called Women Making History: The Intersections of the 19th Amendment,” said Judith Ungar, an assistant professor, library innovation learning resources institute, Brookdale Community College.
Students and faculty, for more information about the intersection of the 19th Amendment, please check out: https://libguides.brookdalecc.edu/womenmakinghistory