While the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified Aug. 26, 1920, local organizers who want to celebrate the momentous anniversary of women’s right to vote this year are getting a head start.
A nonpartisan event organized by Washington County Democratic Committee is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, which is International Women’s Day, at George Washington Hotel Ballroom in Washington.
The centennial celebration includes an afternoon tea, presentation of the work of prominent Pittsburgh suffragist, Jennie Bradley Roesslng, live music by Washington Jazz Orchestra, an exhibit by Washington County Historical Society and a short march down Main Street to the farmers market pavilion.
Margie Constantine, DJ at WJPA will serve as master of ceremonies, and Clay Kilgore, executive director of Washington County Historical Society, will discuss the role of local suffragist Charlotte LeMoyne Wills in getting women the right to vote.
“Wills attended an abolitionist conference in 1840 where she met Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton, women involved in both the women’s rights and abolitionist movements,” Kilgore said. “Soon afterward Wills began corresponding with the women, and eventually Anthony invited Wills to participate in the American Equal Rights Association.”
Kilgore will discuss Wills’ involvement in helping to secure women the right to vote in Washington and after she moved to Los Angeles in 1884.
“Our events committee brainstormed about what we wanted to have to celebrate the centennial,” said Sandy Sabot, member of Washington County Democratic Committee. “I immediately thought of Yvonne Hudson, a college classmate from Pittsburgh who does historical presentations of people like Emily Dickinson and asked her if she ever did portrayals of a suffragist.”
An actress, writer and singer, who has appeared in numerous solo theater and other productions, Hudson was reading about the suffragist movement at the time and was intrigued by one of the most prominent leaders in Pennsylvania, Jennie Bradley Roessing of Pittsburgh.
“I was intrigued by how persistent and determined she was,” Hudson said. “She developed what’s known as the ‘Pittsburgh Plan’ to advocate for women’s full right to vote in the state.”
One aspect of Roessing’s involvement was in the development of the logistics of taking a replica of the Liberty Bell to all of the counties in the state. To highlight women’s lack of freedom to vote, the bell’s clapper was chained and made inoperative. The focus of the effort was to reach as many people as possible, not only by touring the bell to each county, but also by getting media attention through newspaper articles and photographs.
“Roessing’s approach was to be more practical rather than radical, and her husband was very supportive of her activities,” Hudson said. “In my presentation, I’ll be looking back on some of the things she did to encourage the enactment of legislation for a woman’s right to vote.”
The U.S. Congress proposed a Woman’s Suffrage Amendment in 1878, but it required two thirds acceptance of both the House of Representatives and Senate and three quarters ratification by the state legislatures.
According to the National Women’s History Museum, in 1890 Wyoming entered the Union with a state constitution granting women suffrage. Colorado followed suit in 1893 by allowing women the right to vote.
In 1896, Utah and Idaho adopted provisions allowing for women’s suffrage. Pennsylvania was one of the last states to grant women the right to vote and didn’t ratify the 19th Amendment until June 24, 1919.
When Tennessee ratified the amendment in August 1920, the state legislatures approve the amendment and women’s suffrage became the law of the land. Ironically, the amendment that passed is worded exactly as written more than four decades earlier when it was first proposed in 1878.
“In my presentation of Roessing’s role in the women’s suffragist movement, I plan to provide inspiration for what remains to be accomplished in equal pay and gender equality,” Hudson said.
Women attending the tea are encouraged to wear period clothing such as the long black skirts and white blouses worn by the suffragists. Several volunteers donated their time and cost of material to make replicas of the gold, white and purple colored sashes worn by the suffragists, which are available for purchase for $10.
The afternoon tea served at the event will include finger sandwiches, home made cookies and other sweets, and attendees can explore the displays in the ballroom assembled by Washington County Historical Society.
At the end of the program, Washington Jazz Orchestra will lead participants in a parade down Main Street to the farmers market pavilion, where a short rally will take place. Those wanting to join in the march should meet outside the George Washington Hotel at 4 p.m.
“The event is really an educational and advocacy program to show how we can make changes that benefit everyone,” Sabot said. “Hopefully, it will also encourage more women to run for office.”