Women earned the right to vote in 1920, a hundred years ago in August, and according to historian Diane Eickhoff, the right to vote was not the only thing that women were fighting for.
On Tuesday, Sept. 22, staff of the Axe Library and the Pittsburg State University department of humanities hosted “The Long Road to Women’s Suffrage in Kansas,” a presentation delivered by historians and authors Diane Eickhoff and Aaron Barnhart. The presentation was livestreamed from the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts and was moderated by learning outreach librarian at the Axe Library, Ruth Monier.
“We’re taking this presentation all over Kansas to tell the amazing story of how Kansas got the vote for women,” Eickhoff said. “One of the great leaders in this work – she (Clarina Nichols) continues to amaze me in all that she accomplished through very hard work…”
Eickhoff is an educational writer and editor and has written several books, including a biography on Clarina Nichols entitled “Clarina Nichols: Frontier Crusader for Women.” Nichols moved to Kansas after the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854 to become a political activist to fight for both women’s suffrage and the abolition of slavery. During the Civil War, her home served as a station for the Underground Railroad and she helped many slaves escape to freedom. In addition to her work as an activist, she also had a career as a both a journalist and a teacher.
“If you think this was happening in the beginning of the 20th century, think again,” Barnhart said. “This was actually happening before the Civil War. Kansas women got their rights in 1859, but they weren’t full civil rights. They certainly were progressive for their time… What Clarina was always asking for was full suffrage… It was one of the most protracted civil rights campaigns anywhere in America. It was hard fought and filled with bitter disappointments and betrayals… but in the end, Kansas women did get the right to vote before most states in the Union…”
Eickhoff and Barnhart tag-teamed the presentation each delivering information through a pre-recorded video. After the presentation, the pair answered audience questions both from those in-person and those from virtual platforms such as Zoom and Facebook. Topics covered included how the 1920 ratification of the 19th amendment included only white women and how that affected black and other women of color.
“Oh, it (the treatment of black women) was horrible,” Eickhoff said. “They were treated different. There was definitely a shameful aspect to the movement… They gave black men rights after the Civil War ended although that doesn’t mean it was carried out… Jim Crow laws cast a very long shadow for women too… Black women had to have two amendments passed: women’s suffrage and black suffrage… Susan B. Anthony took money from a pro-suffrage but anti-black financier… It just kills me, because she’s a racist but she’s also a feminist…”
The pair also expressed positive comments about civil engagement and voting in the modern era, given that Tuesday was National Voter Registration Day.
“Just today, we talked about whether we would vote by mail or we would stand in line and that’s one of those conversations you never expected to be having,” Barnhart said. “I think this is a time to have an interesting conversation the importance of the vote… This program reminds us that a lot of people worked really hard to gain a franchise that so many people throw away…”