As New Jersey voters complete their mail-in ballots in advance of a unique 2020 Election Day, many upcoming events focus on the history of voting, both nationally and locally.
In addition to Maxine Susman’s poem, the theme of women’s suffrage is highlighted by the current digital exhibit offered by the Historical Society of Princeton and Princeton Public Library.
In honor of the 100th anniversary of the 19th amendment to the Constitution, which granted women the right to vote, the exhibit looks back on how the fight for women’s suffrage played out in Princeton in 1919 and 1920. But the story starts in 1915, when efforts focused on amending state constitutions, and a key referendum on woman suffrage was to be held in New Jersey.
The town of Princeton became a national focus. Then-U.S. president Woodrow Wilson was to return to Princeton to cast his vote on the issue. Pro- and anti-suffrage groups formed in town and published letters in local and national publications. There were aggressive campaigns to educate male voters by both sides.
When Woodrow Wilson announced his intention to vote in favor of women’s suffrage — despite maintaining his opposition to the change at a national level — the suffragists thought their battle was won. But instead it was defeated in Princeton by a 14 percent margin. After defeat at the state level, focus returned to a federal constitutional amendment, and women turned their focus to aiding the war effort. When the 19th amendment was ratified by the state in February, 1920, the Princeton area was still deeply divided on the issue.
Despite these divisions, with women’s suffrage written into law, women came together to embrace their new civic responsibility. Historical Society materials cite an op-ed published in the Trenton Evening Times in August, 1920, by Claire Kulp Oliphant, a leading anti-suffragist, in which she wrote: “Until this time there have been three groups of woman — suffragist, anti-suffragists and the indifferent, uninterested ones … All that is changed. The 19th amendment is now the supreme law of the land, and every woman should feel that it is her duty to vote and vote intelligently and conscientiously.”
A related event, titled “Memory and the Woman Suffragists,” takes place Thursday, November 12, at 6 p.m. featuring Ann Gordon, a professor emerita of history at Rutgers. Register online.
To view the full exhibit, visit www.princetonhistory.org/princeton-and-womens-suffrage.
Women’s suffrage is also the topic of two events presented by the Historical Society in conjunction with Morven Museum and Gardens
On Wednesday, October 21, at 4:30 p.m. Marcela Micucci, a curatorial fellow at the Museum of the American Revolution discusses her museum’s exhibition, “When Women Lost the Vote,” which includes a portrait of longtime Morven resident Annis Boudinot Stockton.
The exhibit, on view at the museum in Philadelphia through April 25, 2021, covers the little-known history of the nation’s first female voters: the women of New Jersey, who could vote legally in the garden state from 1776 to 1807. Register via EventBrite, $15.
A second presentation follows on Thursday, October 22, featuring a screening of “Finding Justice: The Untold Story of Women’s Fight for the Vote” and discussion with Amanda Owen, executive director of the Justice Bell Foundation. Stephanie Schwartz of the Historical Society follows with a lecture on the history of women’s suffrage in Princeton. Register via EventBrite, $10. Visit www.princetonhistory.org.
With much voting occurring away from physical voting booths due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, much discussions has centered on the technology that will ensure votes are securely cast and counted as well as on when a final result will be known.
The art of projecting election results is not new, but modern computing tools have made it easier. Florencia Pierri, curator of the Sarnoff Collection at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, presents a Zoom-based talk titled “Operation Ballot: Electronics and Elections” on Sunday, October 25, at 1:30 p.m.
The free lecture covers the history of computer-based election projections, beginning with the 1952 race between Harry S. Truman and Adlai Stevenson, in which UNIVAC, an early commercial computer, predicted the election outcome. For more information visit davidsarnoff.tcnj.edu.