One hundred years ago today, the 19th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution and, after a 70-year battle, women won the right, if not the guarantee, to vote. It would be another 45 years before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was enacted. Today, the battle against voter suppression continues. But the 19th Amendment for the first time gave millions of women the vote, opening the door for future equality battles.
The pandemic scuttled plans for in-person celebrations this year. Still, the American Bar Association Commission on the 19th Amendment has found other ways to mark the centennial. Among the best: A free online cookbook, “The Nineteenth Amendment Centennial Cookbook: 100 Recipes for 100 Years.”
The cookbook celebrates the spirit of the suffragists, who published cookbooks to raise money to support their cause, says Commission Chair Judge M. Margaret McKeown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Cookbook as “Brilliant” Messenger
Those who weren’t taught much about the women’s suffrage movement at school (and there usually wasn’t much, let’s be honest) may find it trite to use a community cookbook to commemorate the centennial. But cookbooks have a deep connection to women’s suffrage and suffragists published at least a half-dozen cookbooks. (Cookbooks are wonderful.)
The suffragists, it turns out, had a cookbook strategy, which author Elaine Weiss explained during this week’s Commission-sponsored webinar, “The Great Unfinished Fight: A Conversation on the History and Legacy of the 19th Amendment.”
“The suffragists were ingenious and resourceful at using what we would call ‘persuasion techniques’ including creative swag and propaganda,” said Weiss, who is author of “The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote.” And, since they could not rely on the general press to cover them fairly, or at all, they created their own publications to educate the public. One of these ingenious ideas was to use cookbooks as both a fundraising mechanism and as a means to subvert opposition.
From the start of the movement, suffragists were denounced as being unladylike and bad mothers, Weiss said. Why would a decent wife and mother be in the streets marching when she should be home taking care of her family? “The idea that suffrage was going to destroy the American family was a current that ran from the beginning of the movement through ratification.”
A cookbook was domestic and non-threatening, the perfect vehicle for their message. In between the recipes, they placed articles about women’s suffrage — why it was important and why women needed to vote to protect their families.
In “The Nineteenth Amendment Centennial Cookbook,” Judge McKeown writes: “The first cookbook was published in 1886. In the introduction, the editor called the cookbook ‘our messenger,’ and believed it would ‘go forth a blessing to housekeepers, and an advocate for the elevation and enfranchisement of woman.’”
“It was brilliant,” said Weiss. “The cookbooks sold really well and made points on many different levels for the suffragists.”
A Recipe for Voting Rights
The Commission’s 2020 19th amendment cookbook, following its predecessors’ lead, includes its own “recipes” for voting rights as well as quotations from suffragists, photos from historical archives and original artwork from the Northwest Collage Society, which can be viewed here.
McKeown, who is co-editor of the cookbook along with Kelsey Matevish, said, “This was a lot of fun to put together. When we solicited recipes from a number of top legal minds from around the country, one person responded, ‘Call Uber Eats,’ but, in the end, we got 100 recipes.”
It’s clear how much effort and heart went into the cookbook, which is available online and as a PDF at no cost. You’ll find recipes such as:
- Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Quick Ratatouille
- Bryan Stevenson’s Mama’s Corn Pudding
- Judge Priscilla Owen’s Garlic Cheese Grits
- Neal Katyal’s Virginia Brown Butter Cookies
- Will Treanor’s Carrie Nation Carrot Cake
And you’ll find a few recipes from the early cookbooks:
- Girl Scouts of the USA Original Girl Scout Cookie
- Anti’s Favorite Hash from the 1915 Suffrage Cook Book
- 5 oz Childhood Fondant from the 1915 Suffrage Cook Book
Onward! The Great Unfinished Fight
In “The Great Unfinished Fight,” webinar, McKeown and Weiss discussed highlights from the suffrage movement and the state-by-state campaign to ratify the 19th Amendment. The two also discussed parallels between the pandemic of 1918 and today, including the effects on voter turnout. (The webinar is available on-demand.)
When asked what lessons young people can take from the suffragists, Weiss said it is two things: perseverance and protest.
“Social and political change doesn’t come easily, and you can’t be discouraged by setbacks. … If you look at the suffragists, they get defeated time and time again, and they just dust themselves off and say, ‘we’ve got to move forward.’ ‘Onward’ is their motto.
“The other thing … and we’re living this right now … is the idea of protest.”
The suffragists teach us that protest is important, whether it’s marches or picketing or gathering signatures on a petition. Protest is patriotic, and it’s necessary, said Weiss, but it has to be combined with well-articulated goals and strategies.
“You have to learn how to use the levers of power, and that’s what the suffragists did. … They didn’t just march in the streets. They had very sophisticated lobbying campaigns. They had opposition research on every congressman and every legislator, and they also drafted legislation and knew how to use the political process. They knew what they were doing.”
19 Ways to Celebrate the 19th Amendment
The centennial anniversary provides the opportunity for the legal community to celebrate 100 years of women’s constitutional right to vote, to educate the public about the 19th Amendment and the battle for women’s suffrage, and to promote law that ensures women’s full and equal exercise of their right to vote and participate in our democracy.
To that end, the Commission’s #19forthe19th challenge invites all of us to learn more about the 19th Amendment and get out the vote! Read more about the 19 suggested activities here.
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