Celebrating 100 years of women’s suffrage in Flagstaff

Frances Reimer, Ph.D., Julie Piering, Ph.D., and Sanjam Ahluwalia, Ph.D., listen intently to Heather Martel, Ph.D., at the women's suffrage panel at the Flagstaff Federated Community Church on Jan. 21.

NAU faculty convened Tuesday night to discuss the 19th amendment and its effects over the past century with members of the Flagstaff community. Speakers included Sanjam Ahluwalia, professor of history and women's and gender studies; Heather Martel, professor of history; Julie Piering, professor of philosophy; and Frances Riemer, professor of educational foundations.

According to the History website, the 19th Amendment was officially ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, and prohibited denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex. This ratification was the result of years of protest and advocacy by women campaigning for this fundamental right.

Tuesday night's panel discussion at Flagstaff Federated Community Church began with a speech by Ahluwalia, detailing prominent historical and modern female figures who have rendered a significant impact throughout the past 100 years of women’s suffrage. Ahluwalia also set the stage for discussion on the upcoming presidential election.

“The mere appointment of a woman to lead the nation in the White House will not end sexism, just as the appointment of a black man to the presidency did not end racism,” Ahluwalia said.

Martel, who spoke next on the panel, discussed the history of women’s suffrage before and after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Martel explained the political controversy and radical debate of women's right to vote, stating how it went directly against the gender status quo of the time.

The panel did not ignore intersectionality within feminism, heavily discussing topics that matter to queer women and women of color. Piering focused a considerable portion of her speech on how Kate Gordon, suffragette and founder of the Equal Rights Association, argued against the 19th Amendment.

“The worry she had about it was the dilution of the white vote by those who were black,” Piering said, further explaining how Gordon believed granting men of color the right to vote before women would lessen its value because people of color weren't educated enough to have that right.

Piering also mentioned how there could be a slippery slope when it comes to intersectionality in feminism.

"All of these things that seem good, there is a worry that these same arguments, if we remove them from the day-to-day humanity, can be used to justify awful things at the same time,” Piering said.

The formal presentation was followed by an audience discussion in which members of the Flagstaff community voiced their questions and comments to the panel. One of the main topics of discussion during the Q&A session was the likelihood of a female president and how the public views this possibility. One member of the audience mentioned her inability to picture a woman leading the country as commander in chief.

Then, the discussion shifted into the possible consequences of having a woman as president, specifically examining what it would accomplish for feminism moving forward. Ahluwalia said she does not believe having a woman as president would change much in terms of women’s struggles.

At the end of the event, freshman Brooke Priest said it was better than she anticipated.

“I thought the panel was informative and engaging," Priest said. "I enjoyed hearing not only the speeches by the presenters but also the thoughts from the community. I didn’t expect to enjoy the presentation as much as I did, and I hope to attend events similar to this in the future.”

Before leaving, panel presenters and members of the community conferred with one another to discuss what possibilities lie ahead for the upcoming century of feminism.