The United States has never had a female president.
Then again, 101 years ago women were not allowed to vote.
As the nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — women’s suffrage was ratified in 1920 — the Westport Library joins in. A year-long series of events looks back on that then-controversial decision.
They’ll also examine the current voting landscape. A century after half the country finally joined participatory democracy, our country grapples with issues like voter suppression, and the security of our ballots.
The library’s programs are part of its first-ever year-long WestportREADS initiative. Formerly a one-month event, it’s now expanded into a full campaign: “Westport Suffragists — Our Neighbors, Our Crusaders.”
More than a year ago, Westporters Lucy Johnson and Marcia Falk asked director Bill Harmer if the library could note the upcoming 19th Amendment anniversary.
He embraced the idea, and suggested it fall under the WestportREADS umbrella. The program encourages the entire community to read the same book, and organizes events around that theme.
Last fall’s kickoff featured journalist Elaine Weiss. She discussed her book “The Woman’s Hour,” a riveting account of the far-harder-than-it-should-have-been political and social drive to pass the amendment.
The next book event focuses on fiction. On Tuesday, March 3 (7 p.m.), Kate Walbert welcomes Women’s History Month with a discussion of “A Short History of Women.”
Her novel explores the ripples of the suffrage movement through one family, starting in 1914 at the deathbed of suffragist Dorothy Townsend. It follows her daughter, watches her niece choose a more conventional path, and completes the family portrait with a great-granddaughter in post-9/11 Manhattan.
But that’s only part of the WestportREADS schedule.
Here are just a few other events:
- The League of Women Voters tells its story (February 9, 1:30 p.m., Westport Woman’s Club)
- “Battle of the Sexes” video, about the groundbreaking tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs (February 18, 2 p.m., Westport Library Komansky Room)
- Opening reception for an exhibit on Westport women central to the suffrage movement (March 6, 6 p.m., Westport Library Sheffer Room)
- Talk about Lillian Wald, social activist and founder of the Henry Street Settlement who retired to Westport (March 18, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum).
Authors, historians and journalists will present other panels and exhibits through August. That month — marking final ratification of the 19th Amendment (you go, Tennessee!) — WestportREADS sponsors a final, big program. Details will be announced soon.
Working on this project has been enlightening, Johnson says.
“The fight for suffrage began long before the 20th century,” she notes. “It took a long time. But without television, the internet or social media — through sheer will and determination, with marches and lobbying, state by state — people got it done. It was an amazing feat.”
The library has partnered with the League of Women Voters. Representatives will be at every event, to enroll new voters.
All women are encouraged to register.
All men, too.
(For more information on the “Westport Suffragists” WestportREADS program, click here.)