RECOVERING OUR PAST: The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage by Sherna Berger Gluck
Originally produced in 1974 or 1975
Shortly after several women’s liberation movement activists initiated our community-based Feminist History Research Project (FHRP) in Los Angeles, California in 1972, I began to interview surviving suffragists in both southern and northern California. They ranged in age from one of the youngest, 78 year old Ernestine Hara Kettler who was arrested for picketing the White House to 102-year old Sylvie Thygeson who advocated for suffrage at tea parties in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Their stories, captured here in excerpts from their much longer oral histories* give us a sense not only of the range of actions in which suffragists engaged, but also of their optimism about the future for women, including their conviction that the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) would be ratified and become part of the US Constitution. Although many improvements in the status of women in the US can be noted since the time of their interviews in the early 1970s, their optimism about ratification of the ERA was premature. Failing to garner passage by thirty-eight states within the seven-year deadline for ratification the amendment died.
Nevertheless, the significance of the passage of the 19th amendment granting women suffrage cannot be overestimated. Among other things, for better or worse, it has placed women in positions of authority at local and national levels, including on the US Supreme Court. And despite the alleged claims that feminism is dead, we can register its viability and success in many areas of life, perhaps none more significant than the emergence of a new generation of men and women who wear the feminist mantle with pride.
~ Sherna Berger Gluck, December 2009 (Sherna Berger Gluck is the Co-founder of the Feminist History Research Project, Venice, California, Director Emerita of the Oral History Program and Emerita faculty of the Women’s Studies Program at California State University Long Beach.)
* The complete oral history recordings of the suffragists whose stories/voices are heard in this program can be accessed at www.csulb.edu/voaha. Edited versions of their oral histories have been published in From Parlor to Prison by Sherna Berger Gluck (Vintage, 1976; reprinted Monthly Review Press, 1985).