Over a century ago, women in the U.S. starved themselves, walked into traffic and in one case, got trampled to death during a horse race, to advocate for the right to vote, said Lesley Jones, archival media and internship coordinator at the Northeast Georgia History Center.
“In the 1800s they (suffragists) were all prim and proper and asked, ‘Will you please give us the vote?’” Jones said. “In the 1920s they were basically like, ‘No, if you don’t give us the vote, we’re going to do everything we possibly can to get it.’”
After over 80 years of fighting, Jones said women finally received the right to vote by the 19th Amendment, which was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920. Georgia women couldn’t vote until 1922 because the state required registration to vote six months before an election, and it would be 1922 before another statewide election was held, according to Johnny Vardeman, history columnist and former Times editor.
The Northeast Georgia History Center, located at 322 Academy St. NE in Gainesville, is inviting the public to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment by experiencing its new exhibit — “Voices for the Vote: The Struggle for Women’s Suffrage.” It will be on view from Wednesday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, March 21, and is included with the cost of admission.
The exhibit takes people on a journey from 1848, when the first women’s suffrage convention was held in New York, to the 1970s, when the Equal Rights Amendment passed, which guaranteed equal rights for all American citizens, regardless of sex. (The amendment has never been ratified by enough states to become a part of the Constitution.)
Although the displays offer national background around the suffrage movement, Jones said pieces of Hall County history are sprinkled in, including photographs of local women taken during the 1920s, a voter registration book from 1898 and a 1915 yearbook from Brenau University with an image of the school’s women’s suffrage club.
Jones said she is also in the works of finding the university’s 1916 yearbook, which shows the presence of an anti-women's suffrage club in addition to the women’s suffrage club.
Backing the right to vote for women wasn’t the tone of Hall County in the 1900s, according to Jones, nor for the rest of Georgia, at first.
“The Georgia suffrage was very small because the anti-suffrage was so big,” Jones said. “We had the largest in the country.”
What: Exhibit encompassing the women’s suffrage movement on a national and local level
Where: Northeast Georgia History Center, 322 Academy Street NE, Gainesville
When: Wednesday, Aug. 19, through Sunday, March 21
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday; 1-5 p.m., Sunday
How much: $6 for adults, $5 for active/retired military, $5 for seniors, $4 for students, free for kids 5 and under
More info: negahc.org
Jones said she wants to remind people that although many women in Hall County were opposed to the suffrage movement, “it wasn’t that they hated the movement.”
“Most of them in the 1800s were trying to pick up the pieces from the Civil War,” she said. “There was also a religious aspect. They believed that we should listen to our husbands and we listen to God.”
Women suffragists in Hall who spoke out were shunned within their social classes, Jones said. Despite the backlash, one woman in Hall continued to fight — Helen Longstreet, the wife of Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet.
Jones said Helen would go door-to-door and spread her beliefs throughout the county.
“She was helping and trying to get women to understand what this vote was and what it would actually do for them,” she said.
When imagining the women’s suffrage movement, Jones said most think of wealthy white women in their dresses and large hats. However, this doesn’t encompass the whole picture.
As a part of the exhibit, the museum emphasizes how women of color played a huge role in the movement during the 1880s and 1900s.
“They (women of color) were also trying to also secure the vote, but they had to do it on their own time with their own money,” Jones said. “Nobody gave them funds to do so. It wasn’t easy and more than just white women were trying to get the vote.”
When people leave the exhibit, Jones said she hopes they can better grasp the long and difficult path woman took to establish equal rights for themselves.
“There were all kinds of people from all classes trying to get the vote,” she said. “I want people to know that it wasn’t easy. It took them over 80 years to get the vote.”
For more information about the upcoming exhibit, call 770-297-5900. The Northeast Georgia History Center’s hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday and 1-5 p.m., Sunday.