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This Women’s Equality Day, Let’s Celebrate the Women Who Got Us Here

“Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much yet to be done.” –Susan B. Anthony 

As we approach yet another election year, American voters may be drawing nearer to an enormous landmark: electing a woman president. With Hillary Rodham Clinton polling as the top Democratic contender, it’s never felt more possible.

For Ann Lewis, this moment could hardly be more weighted with significance. Lewis has served over the course of her career as the White House Communications Director for President Bill Clinton, Vice President for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Political Director of the Democratic National Committee, and was a founding member of the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 2008, she served as Senior Advisor on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

"Votes for Women" Parrot Pin from the Ann Lewis Collection
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A "Votes for Women" parrot pin from the Ann Lewis Collection.

Lewis has a resume that would make most readers dizzy—and she’s far from finished. For the last twenty years, she’s been collecting objects and artifacts related to women’s suffrage. It’s only fitting that a political powerhouse so dedicated to public service should shine a light on the women who made her own career possible. Without the efforts of suffragettes, Ann Lewis may never have been able to vote, let alone held leadership positions in the White House or advised a woman running for President.

The Ann Lewis Women’s Suffrage Collection includes approximately 1,200 items and pays tribute to the women who fought for the rights we enjoy so readily today. There are buttons, ribbons, stamps, and pamphlets—in an age before Internet communication and Twitter-based organizing, suffragettes relied on viral marketing of another sort. Supporters were encouraged not only to distribute educational materials but also to use teacups, calendars, and playing cards with pro-suffrage slogans and designs. Fundraising was as important a century ago as it is now, and women’s rights organizations raised thousands of dollars by selling memorabilia. The Lewis Collection also includes manuscripts for speeches, newsletters, and other printed materials by such luminaries as Susan B. Anthony, Ernestine Rose, and Amelia Earhart.

Taxation Postcard from the Ann Lewis Collection
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A taxation postcard from the Ann Lewis Collection. The postcard reads "Think It Over. An ounce of persuasion precedes a pound of coercion. The Declaration of Independence was the direct result of taxation without representation. Either exempt WOMAN from taxation or grant her the right of Equal Suffrage. "What is sauce for the GANDER is sauce for the Goose.""

Today is Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates the granting of the vote to women in the U.S. It’s a perfect time to introduce yourself to this astounding collection and celebrate the hard-won rights the suffrage movement achieved. Browsing the collection is truly eye-opening. Perhaps most interesting—and sobering—are the anti-suffrage materials Lewis has amassed. Take for instance the flyer linking women’s suffrage to pro-German attitudes in 1918 (“Woman Suffrage always strengthens Socialism enormously, and…the Socialists are Germany’s tools”)—or my personal favorite, the Valentine’s Day card with an anti-suffrage poem: (The suffragettes can rule, they say, / And splendid they may be, / But the girl who can rule the kitchen, / Oh, that’s the girl for me.”) Today, sexism still abounds in the public sphere; we need look no further than Donald Trump’s speeches. Yet the Lewis Collection demonstrates just how far women have come over the past century. Here is evidence of women organizing, working together, and making change, one mind at a time. Here is the rhetoric that persuaded male voters to pass women’s suffrage. Here are boundless reasons never to take these hard-won rights for granted.  

An Anti-Suffrage Button from the Ann Lewis Collection
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An anti-suffrage button from the Ann Lewis Collection. The button reads "Vote no on women's suffrage."

Why does women’s history matter? Because, as Ann Lewis says, “Their work made our lives possible.” It’s far too soon to say what will happen when we head to the polls next year to elect the next President of the United States, but it’s inarguable that our ability to do so, and the presence of a woman’s name on the ballot, is a direct result of work by women and their allies a century ago. And, if Susan B. Anthony could be granted her wish to see her work come to fruition, she would have the great pleasure of meeting women like Ann Lewis, who has dedicated her career to advancing women while honoring those who “made her life possible.”

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1 Comment

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Ann Lewis
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Ann Lewis.

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How to cite this page

Metal, Tara. "This Women’s Equality Day, Let’s Celebrate the Women Who Got Us Here." 26 August 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on July 21, 2017) <https://jwa.org/blog/this-women-s-equality-day-let-s-celebrate-women-who-got-us-here>.

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1 hour
Love this article about reclaiming Jewish folklore for feminist purposes. https://t.co/k4Hylfv4cD
2 hr
1. Yay for a biopic of the ! 2. Boo for Natalie Portman leaving the project. https://t.co/RWRRvI2CzB
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Indeed! Problematic through today's lens, of course, but intriguing to think she portrayed her sexual… https://t.co/JzryBcLKcF