With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

Women of color were cut out of the suffragist story. Historians say it’s time for a reckoning.

The story of the suffragist movement is usually woven with a single strand. Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott and Alice Paul: These are the women whose names are etched into the history books. They were tremendously influential in the effort to give women “the vote.”

But that’s not nearly the whole story. The story we remember this week — celebrating the 100th anniversary of Congress passing the suffrage amendment — ignores women of color and their contribution to the movement’s success.

The story, experts say, is due for a reckoning.

“It didn’t start with white women; that’s not the point of entry into women having political voice,” said Sally Roesch Wagner, who received one of the first doctorates in the country for women’s studies, while at the University of California at Santa Cruz. “Indigenous women have had a political voice in their nations long before white settlers arrived.”

Wakerakatste Louise McDonald Herne, the bear-clan mother of the Mohawk Nation, said her community has a “whole different memory and experience from those of white women.”

As clan mother, Herne is charged with appointing leaders, naming members and working for the general welfare of her people. She said that despite the residual effects of colonialism, there is a huge reservoir of indigenous research, and indigenous scholars are beginning to craft their own narratives, including those of their ancestors.

“It was our grandmothers who showed white women what freedom and liberty really looked like,” Herne said. “They began to witness for themselves a freedom that they had never seen before.”

Read entire article at Washington Post