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Community Notes: 19th Amendment centennial event: 100-plus-1 years in the making

By Cheryl Erb, President, National 19th Amendment Society

The Centennial Year of the 19th Amendment, the amendment which gave women the right to vote, has been in the making since 1920.

The road to ratification of the 19th Amendment was as muddy and filled with potholes as the roads were back in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Nevertheless, dedicated women – and men – persisted in their work for the cause of suffrage and gaining the right to vote for women.

The 19th Amendment gave more individuals the right to vote than any other action – be it by force or politics – in our country’s history. This monumental achievement is deserving of celebration and recognition.

As caretakers of the legacy of Carrie Chapman Catt, in 2015 the National 19th Amendment Society appointed a committee to create a five-year plan of activities to culminate with a Grand Celebration of the 19th Amendment Centennial in 2020.

My eternal thanks to the individuals who have served on the 100th Anniversary committee: Joy Frank, Susan Jacob, Phyllis Meyer, Ivadelle Stevenson and Marilu Wohlers. Since 2015, this group invested time and talent to create events and opportunities to recognize the impact made on our nation and community by passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

With a focus on celebrating the specific impact on our community, this committee planned events that connected Carrie Chapman Catt’s leadership for getting women the right to vote to the changes realized by passage of the 19th Amendment.

This included recognition for the doors that were opened for women, the role of women in leadership, and opportunities for women in business.

Key events sponsored over these past five years:

• Annual Woman of Influence, an event to celebrate women leaders who have made an impact on our community. Women who have been recognized were Rhoda McCartney, founder of National 19th Amendment Society, in 2016; elected female leaders of our city council, school board and courthouse officials in 2017; civic groups organized by women and relevant today in 2018; Main Street business owners in 2019; and Carrie Lane Chapman Catt for the final Women of Influence event.

• Re-creation of a Suffrage March entry in the annual Charles City July 4th parade. Starting with a small group in 2016 and growing toward a goal of 100 women, children and men marching in the 2020 parade. In 2019, National 19th Amendment Society’s entry was recognized as the Chamber Choice award!

• Author receptions for books that reflected Carrie’s legacy: Wendy Johnson, “Preserving Carrie’s Legacy: The National 19th Amendment Society,” in 2017; Elaine Weiss, “The Woman’s Hour,” in 2018; and Linda Meloy, “And They Persisted…A Century of Impact,” in 2020.

• Partner organization with the Iowa 19th Amendment Centennial Commemoration committee, #HardWon/NotDone, a statewide committee formed to plan events for the 19th Centennial. The official Kick-Off event was hosted by Carrie Chapman Catt Center, ISU, on February 14, 2020, a date that coincides with the Centennial date Carrie Chapman Catt formed the League of Women Voters, an organization devoted to educating women on their right to vote.

• Support for research and promotion of Iowa PBS documentary, “Catt: Warrior for Women,” which was screened here in Charles City at the Charles Theatre.

By now you may be asking why the headline for this article states the 19th Amendment Centennial – 100-plus-1 years in the making. Yes, this is the centennial year and we had a robust list of exciting events and activities planned. As fate would have it, plans have been changed due to circumstances beyond our control.

Until last week, our committee was persistent in trying to find ways to still host events this summer and keep everyone safe. With thoughtful debate and consideration, it was agreed that we would pause events for the remainder of 2020 and move those events to 2021.

As I looked over the terrific events we had planned and how many have been postponed or cancelled, I reflect often on Carrie’s motto: “If we learn from the experience, there is no failure, only delayed victory” and the persistence of suffrage leaders over the decades it took for suffrage to pass.

No one from the original team of suffrage leaders was alive when the 19th Amendment passed. With that perspective, the fact that we have to wait one full year to host the centennial events in 2021 seems rather minor.

We will persist in our planning as we look forward to 2021 as the Centennial + One celebration of the 19th Amendment.