Certain stories spring to mind when we hear the term “women’s suffrage"—you know, the ones you heard in history class surrounding places like Seneca Falls and figures like Susan B. Anthony. But in actuality the fight for a woman’s right to vote was taking place across the U.S. in the lead up to the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, including the Bayou City.
The Heritage Society is highlighting Houston’s role in the women’s suffrage movement in Women Cast Their Ballots: Celebrating 100 Years of the Right to Vote, which is currently on display at its Museum Gallery. The new exhibit was meant to open this spring, but—for obvious reasons—was halted by the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic. Luckily the Heritage Society has been able to take its entire exhibit online. “This information and the stories really need to be shared,” says Lisa Cari, assistant director of the Heritage Society’s exhibit committee.” The only way we could do that was through a virtual tour.”
When Cari says virtual tour, she’s not just talking about a gallery of photos you can barely enlarge. Using a downloadable booklet as their tour guide, viewers can virtually walk through the exhibit as they learn about the suffragists who worked to win the vote right here in Houston. Visitors will also be able to get up close and personal with artifacts like suffragist Julia Ideson’s dress, a Model T, and a display of pro- and anti-women’s suffrage cartoons, just like they would if they dropped by the exhibit in person.
In addition to exploring the history of women’s suffrage in Texas and Houston, Women Cast Their Ballots also highlights a new piece of Harris County voter "her-story" involving the 1920 poll tax and a lawsuit filed by the ever-tenacious suffragist Hortense Sparks Ward, as well as the thousands of women who voted in 1920. Near the back of the exhibit, visitors will find a list of some 3,500 women’s names—the names of those who are believed to have voted in Harris County between 1918 and 1920.
These women and those whose names haven’t been uncovered yet will be honored on August 26, also known as Women’s Equality Day, when Houston celebrates 100 years of women voting with a special ceremony at City Hall Plaza. That same day, city hall as well as the bridges that overlook I-59 will be lit up in the colors of the suffrage movement: yellow, purple, and white.
And, just like the fight for the vote didn’t end with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Heritage Society’s work sharing this history won’t end in August. The organization is keeping Women Cast Their Ballots up through March 2021 and will be hosting a series of panels connected to women’s suffrage through the rest of the year and into 2021. “We’ll just keep telling the story as much as we can,” says historian and co-curator Betty Chapman, “because it’s a very long, exciting, and sometimes discouraging story. It can’t all be done in one fell swoop.”
Heritage Society Women’s Suffrage Lecture Series
Aug 20: A Look at Women's Suffrage: A Century of Struggle
Presented by Betty Chapman, local historian
Sept 17: Blasting the Door Open: Houston Suffragist Hortense Ward's Legal Gambit to Break Texas' Poll Tax Law
Presented by Rae Bryant, The Houston Suffragists Project
Oct 15: Using Your Voice, Your Vote and Activism for Change
Presented by MaryJane Mudd, president of The League of Women Voters; Eesha Pandit, co-founder of The Center for Advancing Innovative Policy; and Robin Paoli, founder of Houston Women March On
Nov 19: Women Advancing Women In and Through the Law In 2020 and Beyond
Presented by Cisselon Nichols Hurd, Shell Oil Company senior counsel of global litigation, and Linda Broocks, founder of the Center for Women in Law
Feb 18, 2021: Our Past, Present and Future: The Future is Female Equality
Presented by University of Houston, Rice University, Texas Southern University, and St. Thomas University
Mar 18, 2021: Houston Women Blazing the Trails
Presented by Anne Sloan, local historian