Mellon Foundation Grant to Radcliffe's Schlesinger Library Will Catalyze New Scholarship on American Women's Suffrage and the Still-Unrealized Promise of Female Citizenship
The grant of $870,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation will support fellowships and programming centered on the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment.
Cambridge, MA—April 17, 2018. The Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has received a grant of $870,000 from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The grant will support fellowships and public programming centered on the 2020 centennial of the 19th Amendment at the Schlesinger Library and the broader Radcliffe Institute.
The Library’s ambitious Long 19th Amendment Project will investigate the past, present, and future of women’s voting and the broader reconstruction of American citizenship in the post–Civil War era.
“Today, when American girls lead at every educational level and American women have advanced significantly in politics and public life, it’s easy to forget the radicalism of the 19th Amendment,” notes Jane Kamensky, the Pforzheimer Foundation Director of the Schlesinger and a professor of history at Harvard.
The 19th Amendment stated, simply: “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” Enfranchising millions of women, the ratification of the amendment punctuated one of the most significant, long-lasting, and wide-ranging social movements in US history. Making the individual, rather than the household, the basic political unit of American society, it marked a significant departure from the political philosophy of the founding era.
Yet for all its radicalism, the 19th Amendment had profound limitations. The year 1920 was hardly one of singular triumph for women of color, including those who had worked for generations to advance citizenship rights. For decades, most African American women remained disenfranchised by Jim Crow legislation at the state level. Nor could many Native American women or immigrant women of Asian descent initially exercise the franchise. The citizenship rights of those living in the growing number of US overseas territories were likewise limited. But universal suffrage was never the goal of all suffragists, some of whose tactics pitted the interests of white women against those of black men. Nor has that ideal been achieved since. In fact, numerous recent trends run in the opposite direction, which is one of many reasons that the core questions animating movements for and against women’s suffrage remain relevant.
We continue to live with the downstream political consequences of the 19th Amendment, often in unpredictable forms. Since the 1980s, a clear if fluctuating “gender gap” has separated male and female voting patterns. Over the last ten presidential elections, women have consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates at higher rates than men. The 2012 election created a 20-point gap: President Obama won women by 12 points and lost men by eight. Yet 2016 brought the largest voting gender gap in the half-century history of exit polls: a gender gap of 24 percent. The racial gap within the women’s vote has been even more striking. “Black women continue to drive the ‘gender gap’ in American history and politics,” notes Leah Wright Rigueur, an assistant professor of public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “And yet, their narratives, along with those of other women of color, continue to be under-analyzed. It’s vital that we explore the relationship between women and the vote, particularly at the intersection of race and gender.” That is what the Schlesinger’s Long 19th Amendment Project means to do.
The Project’s activities will unfold over the next four years, bracketing the women’s suffrage centennial. Its components include yearlong Mellon-Schlesinger Fellowships within the Radcliffe Institute’s renowned fellowship program, summer grants for scholarly researchers and secondary school teachers, collections-intensive undergraduate courses, scholarly and public programs, and exhibitions. The Project will also create an open-access digital portal to facilitate interdisciplinary, transnational scholarship and innovative teaching on newly digitized Schlesinger Library collections along with historical databases tracking voting patterns.
Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute and the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies in Harvard’s Department of History, says that this grant will advance the Institute’s efforts to expand opportunity for women and deepen understanding about their history. Cohen explains, “Whereas Radcliffe College—the predecessor of today’s Institute—sought inclusion for women through access to education, today we work to ensure that the full spectrum of American women’s experiences is included in the historical record. Radcliffe’s Schlesinger Library is an ideal incubator for research that will bring greater complexity to how we view the struggle for women’s suffrage and political empowerment more broadly. Building on the Mellon Foundation’s grant, Radcliffe will invest additional resources to expand fellowship opportunities and public programming around the unfinished business of American women’s full political participation.”
Among the new opportunities made possible is the first Mellon-Schlesinger Fellowship at the Institute in 2018–2019. "This project will not simply celebrate the winning of women's suffrage in 1920, but rather will illuminate the barriers to women's full political empowerment that continue to shape our democracy today," says Corinne Field, an assistant professor of history at the University of Virginia, who will serve as the first Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute in 2018–2019. Field's research during her fellowship year will explore the intertwined roots of race and age segregation in American feminism, arguing that white woman suffragists first promoted the idea of generational "waves" in order to justify political alliances with white supremacists. (The deadline for applications to the 2019–2020 Fellowship competition is September 13, 2018. Go here for more information about how to apply.)
“The 19th Amendment capped a long movement in which coalitions of activists attempted, in the words of the Constitution, to form a more perfect union,” notes Susan Ware, the Schlesinger Library’s honorary Suffrage Centennial Historian. “Their achievement in 1920 fell short of that goal, which is all the more reason that the upcoming centennial is ripe for intervention in a broad civic conversation.”
With support from the Mellon Foundation, the Schlesinger Library means to substantially advance both scholarly and popular understanding of a crucial problem in American public life: that the promise of female citizenship is still unrealized.
Updated with the name of the first Mellon-Schlesinger Fellow on May 8, 2018.
About the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
The Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study documents the lives of women of the past and present for the future and furthers the Radcliffe Institute’s commitment to the study of women, gender, and society. With the finest collection of resources for research on the history of women in America, the Library has especially strong holdings in women’s rights and feminism, health and sexuality, work and family life, culinary history and etiquette, and education and the professions.
About the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University
The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study is a unique space within Harvard—a school dedicated to creating and sharing transformative ideas across all disciplines. Each year, the Institute hosts 50 leading scholars, scientists, and artists from around the world in its renowned residential fellowship program. Radcliffe fosters innovative research collaborations and offers hundreds of public lectures, exhibitions, performances, conferences, and other events annually. The Institute is home to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library, the nation’s foremost archive on the history of women, gender, and sexuality. For more information about the people and programs of the Radcliffe Institute, visit www.radcliffe.harvard.edu.