Faneuil Hall became a sea of white, gold, and purple on a rainy evening on June 26, when a group gathered to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote in Massachusetts.
The event marked the state ratifying the 19th amendment — a milestone some believe isn’t mentioned enough.
“We didn’t know. It was just erased,” said Fredie Kay, president of the Massachusetts Women’s Centennial Suffrage Coalition, which planned the festivity and yearlong celebration.
The great hall was filled with notable Massachusetts residents and speakers, including Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Attorney General Maura Healey, local mayors, and other political figures.
Kay emphasized the importance of young people learning how long and hard the fight was for suffrage. She noted, however, not all women were accepted at the ballot box. Poll taxes, literacy tests, and Jim Crow laws made it impossible for women of color to vote, even after the national passage of the 19th amendment.
Healey said that voter suppression is still an issue across the country and added it could have influenced Stacy Abrams’ loss in the 2018 Georgia’s governor race. “Let’s do all we can to make sure everybody who is eligible can vote,” said Healey.
Even inside the suffragist movement, there were complications around race and class, and this was part of the conversation at the event. Several speakers noted the lack of suffragists of color and overall discrimination. Inclusion was a buzzword in several speeches.
Kay pointed to Ida B. Wells, a black woman, who was ostracized by her fellow suffragists. “She was told she had to walk at the back of the parade in Washington,” said Kay, emphasizing that Wells refused and snuck into the front of the procession.
Wells was not the only woman to be marginalized in the movement. Lucy Stone, a white woman, was written off by some suffragists because she sided with abolitionist Frederick Douglass on the 15th amendment, which sought the vote for black people.
Author Laura Harrington, who wrote the musical, “The Perfect 36,” about the suffragist movement and attended the event, said she believes that as uncomfortable as it may be, people cannot “cherry pick” what parts of history they choose to recognize.
“One of the most difficult things to accept is, in order to prevail, sometimes the compromises that are required are horrific,” Harrington said, referring to white suffragist decisions regarding treatment of people of color. She emphasized that heroes are human, not perfect.
Philanthropist Barbara Lee called the room to action. “We have much more work to do to build a fully inclusive and intersectional women’s movement,” Lee said. “White women in particular must continue to listen and learn from those who have been left out.”