It's the Centennial of Women's Suffrage—Celebrate at One of These Historic Cities
Salute women changemakers past and present at sites that played key roles in the movement for their constitutional right to vote.
One hundred years ago this August, the 19th Amendment went into effect, officially granting women the right to vote alongside men and make their voices heard in all elections from the municipal to the federal level. And as of 1973, as a celebration of this turning point in her-story, August 26 is recognized as Women's Equality Day.
While the road to ratification was long and fraught, women across the country effectively made the case that, as citizens abiding by laws, they should have a say in electing the people who create them. To mark this year's centennial of their success, revel in our progress as a nation, and spark conversations on how we can continue to uphold equal participation in the political process, consider visiting one of the sites most pivotal in the suffrage battle.
Seneca Falls, New York
It's impossible to talk about women's suffrage without mentioning Seneca Falls. Best known as the site of the first women's rights convention in the country, in 1848, this tiny Finger Lakes hamlet (with a population of 6,700) was at the epicenter of the movement. Such pioneers as Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton once called it home, and today, each of their stories—plus those of the many women leaders that came after them—are memorialized in the National Women's Hall of Fame. This summer, having outgrown its former space, it's reopening in the 1844 Seneca Knitting Mill with an exhibit telling the story of the women who worked its machinery, plus a new display listing each inductee with her areas of accomplishment.
And that's just the start when it comes to honoring women's triumphs in Seneca. Before you leave town, take an all-women carpentry class at the Hammerstone School, peruse the vast collection of original women's suffrage posters at the Howland Stone Store Museum, have breakfast at Café XIX (an homage to the 19th Amendment), and stay a night at the woman-owned Inns of Aurora (founded by Pleasant Rowland, creator of the American Girl franchise).
Salt Lake City, Utah
Unsung trailblazers in the fight for recognition, women in Utah were actually the first in the country to vote under a statewide equal-suffrage law 150 years ago, in 1870. At the time, East coasters thought that if they were enfranchised, these western women would vote against the practice of polygamy—but ironically enough, they voted to uphold it, all the while proving that they were not so downtrodden by the system as lawmakers had assumed. Though they later lost the vote between 1887 and 1896 as a result of anti-polygamy legislation, their organized rallies, petitions, and lobbying of elected officials in the intervening years paved the way for the nationwide suffrage movement in the following decades.
Pay tribute to these early suffrage leaders at Council Hall, the very building where Seraph Young (Brigham's grandniece) cast the country's first female ballot. Inside, you'll find a quilted memorial to the state's most influential suffragists and can cast your own symbolic vote; from the steps, you can join a free three-mile walking tour to 13 downtown sites with deep connections to the movement, from the Old Salt Lake Tabernacle to Hotel Utah. And if you can't make it in person? You can also view the virtual tour anytime from home.
As calls for suffrage reverberated from both sides of the country by the mid 1800s, Ohio became the Midwest nexus for the fight. In 1851, Cincinnati suffragist Elizabeth Aldrich published The Genius of Liberty, which made history as one of the first feminist publications in the country. And as the state's role in abolition deepened, it soon emerged as the birthplace of black feminism, too; that same year, activist Sojourner Truth gave her iconic "Ain't I a Woman" speech at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention, decrying the movement's primarily white roots and goals.
To experience just what life was like for these Ohioan crusaders, visit Sauder Village, a living-history destination in the northwest Ohio town of Archbold. New in 2020 to the 235-acre complex—a life-sized time capsule where you can wander through historic structures dating back to the state’s early settlement—is an active replica of a 1920s Main Street. Board a horse-drawn carriage at the livery, then trot your way down to the Schuck Jewelry Store, where you'll find period pieces and vintage porcelain, and later this summer, watch a silent film at the theater or retreat to the speakeasy hidden behind buckets of Double Bubble in the candy shop.
The fight for suffrage, as we know it, reached its triumphant end in Nashville, with The Hermitage Hotel serving as its final battleground. Located just a block from the Tennessee State Capitol, the hotel's Oak Bar is where pro- and anti-suffragists gathered to lobby lawmakers in a struggle that came to be known as the War of the Roses (pro-suffragists wearing yellow roses and anti-suffragists wearing red ones). After eight days of heated debates, a single tie-breaking vote made Tennessee the 36th state to approve the 19th Amendment (the necessary number for a three-quarters majority), officially ratifying it. Toast this turning-point moment with a drink at that very bar inside The Hermitage; a suffrage-themed craft cocktail menu includes tipples that cheekily honor local heroines, like the whiskey-bitters "Carrie" for Carrie Chapman Catt and the vodka-and-limoncello "Abby" for Abby Crawford Milton.