About this Episode
Prologued is a serial podcast from Origins that performs in depth discussions of historical roots that have been lost, ignored, or misconstrued, resulting in modern society being confused by the current course of events. With the help of esteemed scholars, each season will re-construct the history of a major issue society is facing, in an effort to not only explain how we got here, but to reveal a path forward.
Season 1 will analyze the myth of the women's voting bloc. Now, as we wade through the 2020 election cycle and celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote, it is the perfect time to re-evaluate the political and electoral history of women in the United States beginning all the way back with the American Revolution. Join us as we reveal critical conflicts between women's organizations, triumphs and set backs, the women who were left behind, and what modern political processes can learn from the past.
Cite this Site
Theme Music: Hotshot by Scott Holmes
“What is past, is prologue.”
These words are carved beneath the duelly named statue, “Present/Future,” that greets both tourists and researchers at the National Archives in Washington D.C. The phrase is meant to remind readers that nothing is new, we are in the middle of the long story of human life and all that came before has created the exact world in which we live.
Current events, however dire or exciting or complicated they may be, have been made by history. They have been introduced. They have been, as that statue reminds us, Prologued.
My name is Sarah Paxton and I am a historian with the magazine Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, a joint venture between the Ohio State University and Miami University history departments. As historians, we know that the phrase “what is past is prologue” is a vital component of our jobs. We recognize that, in order to understand the world in which we live, we must understand the history—however far it goes back—that led us to this moment.
But often, crucial pieces of that history, that prologue, have been lost or buried, leaving holes in the narrative and incomplete explanations of modern events.
As Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning author Toni Morrison remind us: "For insight into the complicated and complicating events ... , one needs perspective, not attitudes; context, not anecdotes; analyses, not postures. For any kind of lasting illumination the focus must be on the history routinely ignored or played down or unknown."
And that is why we’re here.
Prologued is a serial podcast from Origins that offers thoughtful and fascinating discussions of the historical roots that have been lost, ignored, or misconstrued—leaving us adrift from the past actions that brought us to today and ill-prepared to solve the problems we now face.
With the help of brilliant and engaging experts, each season we will re-construct the history of a major issue that our society is facing, in an effort to not only explain how we got here, but to reveal a path forward.
Join us as we discover what we can learn from the past and how it has prologued present and future.
Coming up on Season 1 of Prologued.
Now, as we wade through the 2020 election cycle and celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment granting American women the right to vote, it is the perfect time to re-evaluate the political and electoral history of women in the United States.
Has there ever been such a thing a women’s voting bloc?
The Cult of True Womanhood was, of course, an ideology and not a reality. So, though many women did—particularly middle class, white women—did often stay at home, this was not the case for the majority of women. Most women still worked, sometimes they still worked in the home. And it was certainly not the case for working class, Black women, for other women of color, who, for example, the home was the workplace, right, for somebody who was a domestic servant.
On the left was a women's movement that was encouraging women to be more active, that was making women more aware of the rights that they should have, making them more interested in policy that could get rid of sex discrimination. And on the right, women were stirred up in part in reaction against this feminist movement.
What divides women?
Women of color have always from the outset been vital to the women's suffrage movement; but, to tell their stories, historians often have to look in different places than the mainstream white suffrage groups and that's because the mainstream white suffrage groups—either the NWSA, AWSA or the reunited NAWSA—were largely segregated.
So even after the passage of the 19th amendment and women's suffrage, some of them may have been up against those restrictions as well. And again, it would have been primarily middle-upper-class women or women who were in positions of power who would have benefited the most from the passage of the 19th amendment.
What influences them?
The Onondaga in 1924 told the US Congress that, not only did they not want citizenship, but the US Congress had no right to confer it on them. So, within this context, we have to think about citizenship and the suffrage for Native men and Native women as of questionable benefit in that moment and certainly as a possible tool of colonial domination.
So, one of the effects of World War Two on those veterans who are coming home, not only in the African American community but among Chicanos and Latinos as well, was to give people a greater consciousness of their rights and what their citizenship meant to United States. They had gone abroad and fought against fascism and against Hitler, and, you know, in defense of the freedoms that Americans enjoyed. So, women became involved along with men in different kinds of civil rights organizations, I guess we could call them, and also veteran’s rights.
Phyllis Schlafly was particularly motivated by the campaign against the E.R.A., the Equal Rights Amendment. And largely it's about—in a lot of the social conservatives of the conservative women's movement—is about threats to the family and the family structure.
Perhaps most importantly, what can we learn from the last century of women’s suffrage to better inform our modern expectations and political process?
I think…I think we learn more every election cycle and how it's not a monolith. I think it is important to remember that the women, electorate will vote around safety and security first, and always first.
So, on the one hand, it's been the activism and engagement of Latinas in the past that have made it possible for someone like AOC to come to power; but, at the same time, she's doing really important work along with a number of other Latina elected officials throughout the country. They also I think are doing a really important job of being role models for young women, for other Latinas, who may never have thought of themselves as being important enough or articulate enough to participate in the debates of our time.
If you look at some of the debates and discussions around leadership, the composition of leadership, who has the right to speak for women, you know, to what extent are these movements inclusive? To what extent are they intersectional? I think those are the questions that women's rights leaders are grappling with and trying to get right today, in many ways, because we're painfully aware of how our predecessors got them wrong.
Listen to women of color. That’s it. (laughter)
This season of Prologued was brought to you by Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, an online publication of the Public History Initiative, The Goldberg Center, and the history departments at the Ohio State University in Columbus; and Miami University in Oxford, Ohio with support from the Stanton Foundation. Out editors are David Steigerwald, Steven Conn, and Nicholas Breyfogle. It was written and hosted by Sarah Paxton with research support from Min A Park. Our audio and technical advisor is Paul Kotheimer and our production specialist is Brandon Maclean and Oranjudio. Song and Band information can be found on our website and we encourage our listeners to visit episode descriptions for citations ot background reading and sources that made this podcast possible. You can find our podcasts and more on our website, Origins.osu.edu, on Itunes, Stitcher, Spotify, and Soundcloud, as well as wherever else you get your podcasts. And, as always, you can find us on twitter @ProloguedPod and @OriginsOSU. Thanks for listening.