This year we kick off women’s history month with the centennial anniversary of the 19th amendment, ratified in 1920, rapidly approaching. That victory, of course, finally won women the vote across the United States just one hundred years ago. Yes, it took much too long for women to be able to vote in our democracy. Less widely known and acknowledged, however is that three years earlier that hard-fought suffrage victory was foreshadowed in New York, when women here won the vote at the state level. The state effort was equally hard-fought. It is a source of pride that New York’s 1917 referendum legalized full voting rights for women, preceding the national action and making ours the only east coast state to enfranchise women before 1920.
This spring we seek to share this pride with all New Yorkers with a conference that celebrates the victory of women’s suffrage in New York. At this event, we will look back on how women in New York State won the vote, consider women’s contemporary status and engagement with public life and leadership, and envision women’s future in politics. The Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives and the Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities program in collaboration with our partners the Departments of History, Political Science, and Sociology at SUNY New Paltz; The Rockefeller Institute of the State University of New York; the FDR Library; and the League of Women Voters of New York State have worked together to plan this examination of the history, the present situation, and the future of women in the public sphere.
Please mark your calendars. The conference will be held on April 21-22, 2017: day one will be at the FDR Library in Hyde Park; and day two will be here on the SUNY New Paltz campus.
Our conference has a number of goals. It will examine the history of the suffrage movement, illuminated by the suffragette’s victory in New York State. It will generate an intergenerational dialogue about women’s subsequent political activism and role in social movements in our state. Further, it will examine the overall advancement of women’s human and civil rights since winning the vote. By bringing together scholars and practitioners with a variety of approaches and perspectives, we will contribute to an understanding of past accomplishments with a clearer picture of our present challenges and identification of our unfinished agenda for the future. Our conference format will allow attendees to interact directly with nationally known speakers and panelists as they debate the issues associated with our conference themes.
On Friday, April 21 U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will kick off the conference. We will release the results of the first statewide Women @ Work’s View on Women (VOW) public opinion survey, presented by Eve Waltermaurer. There will be a keynote from Allida Black, Professor of History and International Relations at George Washington University and editor of the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers. On Saturday, April 22, Barbara Smith, black feminist author and activist who served two terms as a member of the Albany Common Council and who has played a pioneering role in our national dialogue about the intersections of race, class, sexuality, and gender, will deliver the keynote address over lunch. Historian Susan Lewis, also the conference chair, and historian Meg Devlin O’Sullivan have organized the history panels; the present day panels are being prepared by myself, and political scientist Kathleen Dowley is constructing the future panels. Parts of the conference will be live-streamed to sites across the state with the assistance of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute of Government. In order to facilitate infusion of related women’s history into our schools, an afternoon workshop will be held for K-12 teachers to help them develop related curriculum.
Our registration portal will be open soon; check back for it during the second week of March on our website www.newpaltz.edu/benjamincenter. If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please contact Janis Benincasa at firstname.lastname@example.org.