A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: WKy NOW invites grades 6–12 to celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage


Except for smudges of white clouds that blur the glare of afternoon sun, the sky is blue as the eye of eternity. Along with a few slender evergreens discreetly pointing to heaven, sturdy clapboard houses claim the distant background. In the foreground, the courthouse square is thronged with a raucous crowd. A few stovepipe hats blend with other old-fashioned details, but the vitality of this small-town gathering could be happening any time, past or present.

Welcome to George Caleb Bingham’s painting of American democracy in progress, The County Election, 1852.

White males dominated. With no system of voter registration at the time, one simply swore on the Bible to assert his legal identity. There was no ballot, so the voter’s choice was called out to the election clerk and officially recorded. With no electioneering laws, candidates or their supporters could sweet-talk and strong-arm voters at will. Alcohol flowed freely, and votes could be bought or sold with impunity.

The County Election, 1852. Oil on canvas by George Caleb Bingham (Image provided)

Even today, amidst Kentucky’s primary this week and the upcoming presidential election, there are likely voters who have no idea there was a time when only white male property owners could vote. It is also possible that some do not realize it wasn’t until 1870 that African American men could vote.

Supposedly.

It took the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to remove barriers at state and local levels — like poll taxes and literacy tests — so African Americans could no longer be denied their right to vote.

Speaking of denial of rights, it is still hard to believe that women did not get the right to vote until 1920. The hardships, dangers, and even tortures endured so women could vote are part of U.S. History that most of us never studied in school.

To fill the knowledge gap, and to honor the hundredth anniversary of Women’s Suffrage, the West Kentucky Chapter of NOW is challenging students entering grades 6 through 12 and living in western Kentucky counties, to create a 3-5 minute video associated with a specific Suffragette or event from that era. Entries should showcase research and technical skills, and costumes are encouraged, but not required.

Unofficial historian of the West Kentucky NOW Chapter, Vicki Kemp, believes the idea for the video competition began with a story about Frances Perkins, broadcast during Women’s History Month on WKMS-FM, the region’s NPR affiliate.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Ms. Perkins, the first woman to serve in a cabinet-level position, was appointed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. Earlier in the twentieth century, she had been active in the Suffragette movement, and during the FDR administration, she established the first minimum wage and overtime laws, and also defined the standard forty-hour workweek. Despite a distinguished career, her many accomplishments have been mostly overlooked in history books.

“I was inspired,” Vicki Kemp recalls, “and that led to fascination with the idea of researching other women and sharing their stories.”

For WKy NOW President, Catie Bates, the video competition makes sense. “I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about the Suffragette movement,” she explained, “and I didn’t learn about it in school. I want to encourage kids to find great ways to expand their learning as we celebrate 100 years of women’s voting.”

VP of the region’s NOW chapter, Debi Henry Danielson, asserted that the competition, “…brings awareness and understanding to our family history…our ‘other family’ – the family of women. Sometimes the details of our history can be left out and the struggle glossed over in traditional and academic learning.”

“I hope this competition encourages and inspires young people to be involved in their history and their community,” she continued. “I also hope it educates us all by bringing to life some of the amazing characters of the suffrage movement.”

Videos will be judged on content and creativity and must include reliable sources. Cash prizes will be awarded for first, second, third place, and honorable mention. The amounts are, respectively, $100, $75, $50, and $25.

The deadline is August 7. Winners will be announced August 10, 2020. For more information go to www.westkynow.org or westkynow@gmail.com.

The official site of Women’s Vote Centennial is www.womensvote100.org.


Related Posts

Leave a Comment