“Raising Your Voice, Casting Your Vote”: University Libraries celebrates 100 years of women’s suffrage

The physical display of “Raising Your Voice, Casting Your Vote: Music of Suffrage” is available in the Miller-Nichols Library until Nov. 29. (Libby Hanssen)

Kate Beilsmith

In celebration of a century of women’s suffrage, University Libraries has presented a virtual display that highlights the role of music in the fight for the female vote.

“Raising Your Voice, Casting Your Vote: Music of Suffrage” features suffragette albums, bands and composers, as well as current musical organizations that are honoring and encouraging voting.

A physical display of the exhibit will be available until Nov. 29 at Miller-Nichols Library, but a virtual display is available on the University Libraries website until Dec. 31.

“Throughout the struggle for suffrage, music served to educate, persuade and inspire in all sorts of ways, politically as well as culturally,” said Libby Hanssen, one of the creators of the display. “We knew about some famous musicians from that era, such as Dame Edith Smyth, but there is also tons of modern music that is inspired by, or uses texts from, the famous speeches and writings of suffrage leaders.”

Hanssen created the display with Bryanna Beasley and Tracy Bass. The digital design work for the project was done by Sean McCue.

Hanssen, Beasley, and Bass, found content related to the fight for suffrage, wrote summaries for the selected items and then converted everything into a physical display once the libraries re-opened.

The display features well-known suffrage leaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, while also introducing composers, songs and scores from the fight for the vote that are not well known.

However, according to Hanssen, the creators wanted to acknowledge that the 19th Amendment, similar to the 15th Amendment, did not immediately guarantee the vote for every eligible citizen. Through featuring voices like Fannie Lou Hamer and Frederick Douglass, the exhibit shows that the fight for suffrage did not end with the passage of the 19th Amendment. For some groups, like the Black, Latinx and Native communities, voter suppression through various means has continued long after the amendment’s ratification.

The project is on display not only during the centennial celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment but also during the biggest election in American history. According to the Washington Post, 64% of eligible voters cast a ballot on Nov. 3, which is the highest voter turnout in over a century.

“We wanted to inspire our patrons to vote in the November election,” said Beasley. “The display was a wonderful opportunity to talk about women composers, who are all too often left out of music programming, to talk about the remarkable achievement for women in the passing of the 19th Amendment, highlight those who still had to fight for their right to vote after the amendment’s passing and remind our patrons to use their voice and vote.”

“Voting is every citizen’s prerogative, locally as well as nationally,” said Hanssen, “The more voices involved in the process creates a stronger, more representative democracy.”

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Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article did not attribute Sean McCue, who did digital design work for Miller-Nichols Library display.