Our panel will explore the challenge that intersectional identities, race, and class posed to the woman suffrage movement from the mid-nineteenth century to its legacy in contemporary voting rights activism. Suffragists in the United States faced many struggles related to race right from the inception of the movement. There have been periods of close cooperation between black and white activists, punctuated by longer periods with virtually no cooperation between them. Examining moments of inclusion and exclusion, cooperation and conflict, this panel will examine how, why, and when, black and white women worked separately or together for the right to vote. Furthermore, we also interrogate the role of class as we consider whether the concept of sisterhood extended past race, ethnicity, and class. Collectively, our papers seek to stretch the long history of the struggle over race in the movement by moving from the mid-nineteenth century, through the height of activism in the 1910s, the contest over who the amendment would actually enfranchise in the 1920s, through the legacy of earlier failures in the 1960s and 1970s as well as voting rights initiatives of the 2010s. Our panel uses the 2020 centennial of the nineteenth amendment to reveal and explore the movement’s long and broad implications for intersectional identities, feminism, and race. Recent media attention to racism within the suffrage movement and to the work of black suffragists indicates how important this discussion is.
Susan Goodier’s paper on Louisa Jacobs (daughter of Harriet Jacobs) examines Jacobs’ movement in and out of national suffrage organizations in the 1860s-1870s, and her determination to fight for the right to vote despite her disillusionment over white suffragists’ actions. Joan Johnson’s paper explores white wealthy suffragists’ failed attempts to establish connections with black and immigrant working class women in a “sisterhood” that could unite them through sex discrimination despite differences, and ways that black and immigrant women negotiated financial assistance with retaining their independence. Liette Gidlow’s paper explores the repeated failures of white former suffragists to support voting by southern Black women after 1920 and the implications of that failure for 1960s/1970 era activism. Treva Lindsey’s paper will explore the legacy of Black women’s suffrage activism, focusing on how they fought and continue to fight for voting rights and electoral power, while pushing back against anti-Black racism and sexism. Cherisse Jones-Branch, author of Crossing the Line: Women and Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II, will serve as chair and commentator. Our in-depth analyses of black and white activism unpack possibility and idealism as well as disillusionment and failure. Together these papers interrogate the long history of race and feminism and the long struggle over race within the women’s movement.