Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program highlights 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage

A movie, panel discussion and trivia night celebrate the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment


The flier shared by the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program describing the events to celebrate women’s suffrage. Photo courtesy of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program.

Annalisa Waddick

Campus celebrated the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the United States with several events during the week of March 3.

A showing of the critically acclaimed movie “Iron Jawed Angels” kicked off the week on Tuesday night. The movie follows suffragist leaders Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and other suffragists as they fight for the passage of an amendment guaranteeing women’s voting rights.

Melina Bell, the program head of campus and community engagement within the Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies program, which hosted the event, chose the movie. She said she picked “Iron Jawed Angels” specifically with the hope that it would highlight the struggles the suffragists faced and educate those who didn’t know much about the movement.

“[In] this suffrage movement… women were beaten, arrested, force fed, and basically tortured… [but] women went through all of this to get the right to vote,” Bell said. “I wanted to make sure that people from other countries or people who just hadn’t heard about the suffrage movement had a chance to see what it was all about, and how hard fought the right to vote was.”

The historical drama depicts the unrelentless fight for enfranchisement throughout the 20th century. Audience members found the abuse and horrors the suffragists faced in response to their nonviolent movement chilling.

Janina Kiekebusch, ‘20, learned through the film just how hard fought the right to vote in America really was.

“I’m an exchange student from Germany, so I did not really know a lot about American women’s fight for equality,” Kiekebusch said. “I thought it was a really good movie… it’s a lot, what [the suffragists] took on… it’s amazing.”

Nour Ali Nasr Ajjdier, a Fulbright Language Arabic teaching assistant, said she found the movie both informative and inspirational.

“For me it’s amazing, it showed me it was not easy for women [in the United States] to get the right to vote,” Ajjdier said. “They suffered a lot. We have a lot to do… it really gave me a lot of inspiration.”

A faculty panel discussion on Thursday followed the movie.  Robin LeBlanc, professor of politics, Molly Michelmore, head of the history department, and Rebecca Weissman, professor of education studies, were present.

Each woman presented for roughly fifteen minutes about different aspects of the suffrage movement. They concluded by answering questions from the audience on topics such as Elizabeth Warren’s leaving the presidential race and the current makeup of the Democratic party.

Michelmore and Weissman addressed the racism prevalent both within the suffragist movement and the society at the time. They said that although the 19th amendment supposedly guarenteed the right to vote regardless of sex, it was really only white women who were actually granted the right.

“Thinking about… the ways in which women’s rights has been formed,” Michelmore said, “we want to remember that these heroes of the suffrage movement are in fact articulating these ideas against a backdrop deeply invested in, implicated and committed to in some ways, the preservation of white supremacy.”

ToniAnne Wong, ‘21 said she enjoyed the event and found it very educational.

“My favorite thing was when they explained the waves of feminism,” Wong said. “I’ve seen online and in videos people saying the words ‘third wave feminism,’ and I had no idea what that meant until they talked about how there were different eras and different goals of different generations of feminism.”

On Tuesday, March 10, the WGSS department presented the final event of the week, a Gender Action Group Trivia Night that was co-sponsored by Amnesty International. This was the most popular event of the week, as the Center for Global Learning’s atrium was packed with students looking to test their trivia knowledge on women’s suffrage and win prizes.

The night also served as a fundraiser as participants were encouraged to donate, with the proceeds going towards UN Women and Love 146. UN Women works for the empowerment and education of women, and Love 146 works to end child trafficking while also caring for survivors.

Maria Luzaran, ‘23, an executive member for Amnesty International, attended the trivia night. She said she feels that her participation at events such as these is important on Washington and Lee’s campus specifically.

“[Women’s history month] is a very important thing to acknowledge, especially on this campus,” Luzaran said. “That’s why I always make an effort to try and come out to participate in these events.”

Sharon Mendieta Ramirez, ‘23, said she heard about the event through Luzaran and simply wanted to learn from the trivia.

“I just really wanted to come in order to be able to learn more about women’s history month,” Ramirez said.

While the events of the WGSS department ended with the trivia night, the event also kicked off  Amnesty International’s ‘Women’s Week’ which included activities such as an open-mic poetry night and a karaoke night.