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HT: One-woman show reflects one hundred years of voting rights

By 

February 2, 2020

 

This August one century will have passed — since it passed: female voting rights in the U.S. And for black women, that right officially came not in 1920 but in 1965.

 

Americans called them suffragists; the British called them suffragettes, and titles notwithstanding they achieved the most peaceful suffrage movement of its time, 1848 to 1920. In the U.S., it was also one of the most peaceful civil rights movements ever.

 

While British women hurled rocks and bombs, American women fought much less physically, said Sally Perkins, an adjunct professor of public speaking at Butler University and the director of the Speakers’ Lab there, a tutoring service for students. Perkins, who wrote her one-woman narrated show about women’s suffrage, “Digging in Their Heels,” will educate and entertain her audiences for two nights, Feb. 10 and 11, in the Ivy Tech Waldron Rose Firebay.

 

“I have three goals here,” she said over the phone Jan. 3. “I hope my audiences leave saying, ‘I didn’t know what I didn’t know!; I didn’t realize who (many women and men of color) suffered as a result of the movement; I had so much fun learning about it.’ “

 

Two of the main things most people learn from Perkins’ narrated show is the amount of conflict among the suffragists themselves and the harm the movement caused blacks at that time, as it stole focus from the American Civil War, post-slavery issues and additional civil rights, including the vote for people of color. Another four and half decades elapsed after 1919 until 1965, when women of color officially got the vote.

 

“The situation was very delicate and difficult,” Perkins said. “Mostly, it was wealthy white women who were fighting for the vote, many of whom had started out as abolitionists, supporting the Union Army.” Matters of strategy loomed large, with northern women saying, “If we don’t win the support of the southern vote we’ll lose the whole (suffragists’) movement.”

 

The passage of the 19th Amendment, deemed law in 1920, technically allowed women to vote. Originally, however, that amendment excluded women of African American, Asian American, Hispanic American and Native American roots. Perhaps not surprisingly, much of this sexism and racism sprang from the suffrage movement members themselves.

 

The suffragist movement had begun well before the Civil War, and the women who worried about making matters worse for the former slaves had realized that the rights the blacks were craving were some of the same ones women needed, too. Difficult as it may seem to believe today, women of any color — and men of color — were not allowed to speak in public, run for office, divorce or enjoy property rights.

 

Even with the 19th Amendment’s passage, in the South, black women still could not use ballot boxes, nor could they register to vote due to government employees’ fraud. Black women officially got the vote thanks to the Voting Rights Act — not passed until August 1965. Before this, due to practices such as literacy tests, roughly 23% of voting-age blacks were registered in the U.S., but by 1969 the number had grown to more than 60%.

 

Perkins’ story whirls the audience through 72 years of women’s history, introducing us to 14 women — each with a modern, recognizable (a recent celebrity) alter ego — who fought against oppression. In other words, there will be “modern twists.”

 

Perkins premiered “Digging in Their Heels” at the 2018 Indy Fringe Festival and in 2019 performed it Off-Broadway on Theatre Row in the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York City. She is taking it across the country this year as our nation celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

 

See it on stage February 10 & 11 at the Ivy Tech Waldron Auditorium. Learn more HERE.

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