Officially, American women were granted the right to vote on Aug. 26, 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which Congress passed the year before on June 4, 1919.
Unofficially, however, the Constitutional Amendment marked the end of one struggle by the suffrage movement and the beginning of another: all women’s right and ability to vote.
It’s what Chelsea Griffis calls the start of “a new story.”
“When we say women got the right to vote, which women are we talking about?” said Ms. Griffis, an associate lecturer in the University of Toledo’s history department, where she specializes in women’s history of the modern United States.
“The 19th Amendment said all women who are U.S. citizens are legally entitled to vote, but we all know they didn’t.”
Jim Crow laws throughout the South denied many black Americans the right to vote until the late 1960s, for example. White women also faced obstacles, Ms. Griffis said, including husbands who would keep them from voting, or through the social mores of the time. “[They] thought voting isn’t something good women do,” she said.
Despite its complicated aftermath, the 19th Amendment was a huge success, Ms. Griffis said. It’s also the focus of a month-long series of specials and showcases by WGTE Public Media on its TV and radio stations, Channel 30 and 91.3-FM, respectively, as well as its website, wgte.org.
The spotlight begins Monday with a focus on female classical composers on WGTE-FM’s “Morning Classics” and “Afternoon Classics,” airing 9 to 11 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m., respectively, and moves to WTGE-TV with the two-part American Experience film series, The Vote, airing from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.
Later this month, WGTE will stream and air the latest episode of its local half-hour discussion series, BackStory, produced in conjunction with area League of Women Voters organizations, with its focus on the 19th Amendment. Hosted by retired Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith Lanzinger, the July Backstory will feature Ms. Griffis and another guest.
“Our mission is to look at what kind of content relates to our community,” said Ray Miller, director of content and creative services for WGTE’s TV and radio stations. “And the 19th Amendment and women’s suffrage is a part of our history and our national history that needs to be told.
“Engaging the community and getting them talking and thinking and having a conversation,” is what WGTE does, Mr. Miller added. And content such as BackStory “enables us to be able to engage them in this and to have a dialogue.”
Award-wining filmmaker Michelle Ferrari, the writer-producer-director of The Vote, said in a email interview with The Blade that when she first began discussing the project to coincide with the 19th Amendment’s centennial, she was struck by how little she knew about the suffrage movement and the women who led the charge, including Susan B. Anthony.
“The prospect of telling a story that was not well or widely known was exciting to me,” Ms. Ferrari said. “I also thought working on the project might serve as a corrective to my own cynicism about electoral politics, in the sense that I’d be spending time — a lot of time — with women who had such faith in the power and promise of American democracy that many of them dedicated their lives to winning the right to participate in it.”
She spent six months developing the series, and another 19 months making it. And through her series, as well as programs such as WGTE’s BackStory, she said there is an “opportunity to set the record straight” about the 19th Amendment.
“It’s practically an axiom of American history that the 19th Amendment ‘gave’ or ‘granted’ women the right to vote; but that axiom completely obscures reality,” Ms. Ferrari said. “Millions of women voted before the 19th Amendment was enshrined in the Constitution, millions were prevented from voting after it, and the vote was not so much ‘given’ as won.
“The commemoration of the amendment’s centennial and the spate of PBS broadcasting around it offer an opportunity to set the record straight — and also, perhaps, to better appreciate what’s really at stake in our ongoing battles over voting rights.”