By all accounts, 2020 was an eventful and historic, yet difficult year. From the public health crisis to social unrest and increasing activism, and from commemorating the suffrage centennial to celebrating breakthroughs in women’s political participation, Women at the Center has sought to uncover silver linings of this difficult time buried not too deeply within the narrative of the past. As scholars with a particular eye for women’s contributions, the Center for Women’s History team continually discovers fresh and exciting ways to enhance and amplify the public’s understanding of history by considering women’s larger impact on the story. In our 60th post of 2020, we take a look back at some of our most popular posts and the topics and themes that resonated with our readers over the past year.
Just before the pandemic swept across our city and the world, the New-York Historical’s Center for Women’s History opened a monumental new exhibition, Women March. On view until February 7, 2021, it honors the cenennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment and explores 200 years of American women’s collective action and activism. The museum was closed during the month of August, which marked the actual anniversary of the suffrage victory, but our blog drew from the exhibition to celebrate and complicate its legacy. Blog posts highlighted the multiplicity of suffrage activism preceding the amendment’s ratification; the obstacles to suffrage that persisted even after the ratification of the 19th Amendment; and why the vote alone has been seen as an insufficient tool for fully exercising citizenship by activists whose work continues into the present. Several of our most popular posts of the year drew from this series:
- The Many “Official” Colors of the Suffrage Movement
- White Supremacy and the Suffrage Movement
- “Girls in Caps and Gowns”: The Deltas March for Suffrage
- Obstacles to Suffrage after 1920
- Many Fronts, One Struggle: Native American Women’s Activism Since the 19th Amendment
Women’s Lives in Pandemics
As the CWH team grappled with the myriad of challenges COVID-19 brought to our lives, we looked back at epidemics and national crises of previous generations to find stories of women’s ingenuity and resilience. From the 1918 flu to the HIV crisis of the 1980s, we have explored continuities to our current moment. Some of the posts which struck a nerve with our readers included:
- Women’s History in the Age of Epidemic: A Historian Reflects
- “A Stern Task for Stern Women:” Nursing During the 1918 Flu Pandemic
- Designing the N95 Mask: Sara Little Turnbull’s Attention to Women Consumers
- Living to Tell the Tale: A Historian on the Objects Life Leaves Behind
- How Telephone Operators Helped People Connect During the 1918 Flu Epidemic
- Why Don’t We Have National Child Care? The COVID-19 Crisis and a History of the Child Care Movement
Exacerbated by the racial health disparities of COVID-19 and in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and many others, 2020 also brought a racial reckoning as protests and social unrest spread across the country. The CWH found parallels to our current moment in the history of Black women’s activism, exploring both large-scale events and the stories of individual leaders. These posts included:
- Remembering the NAACP’s 1917 Silent Protest Parade and the Refusal to Accept “Barbaric Acts”
- Juneteenth and Women’s History
- Ella Baker’s New York
- Rosa Parks Beyond the Bus Boycott: A Life of Activism
Women March and Activist Leaders
Although our exhibition, Women March, celebrates how the collective action of anonymous women coming together can foster change, it also highlights some of the individual, exceptional women who led social movements over the last century. Several of our most popular posts explored both the exhibition itself as well as life stories of some of leaders we highlight. We also wrote a short series on how our exhibition reveals the history behind the 1970s battles among women activists portrayed on the Hulu/FX show, Mrs. America, with a roundtable gathering historians’ reactions and background primers on several of the women depicted: Phyllis Schlafly, Shirley Chisholm, and Bella Abzug.
- Tony Nominee Ariana DeBose Brings an Unsung Heroine to Life in “Women March”
- “Women March” Preview: The Curators Pick Their Favorite Objects From the New Exhibition
- Isabel González and Puerto Rican Citizenship: A Q&A with Historian Sam Erman
- “Summoned:” Watch A New Documentary about Frances Perkins
- “Mrs. America” Roundtable: Historians Respond
At the Center for Women’s History, we proclaim that not only in the designated month of March but every month is Women’s History Month. This year we spent much of March and the time that followed in isolation and uncertainty. But in looking to the continuum of the past, we can be reassured that there will always be many more months and years to come as we chronicle and contextualize our own moment. Here’s to 2021, and the new stories that the Center for Women’s History will tell!
Edited by Anna Danziger Halperin, Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Women’s History and Public History, Center for Women’s History
Top image: Menu from S.S. Manhattan New Year’s cruise to Havana, 1937. New York Public Library.