At a celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage in South Dakota, USD history students had a chance to present their research in the MUC Pit Lounge Wednesday afternoon.
The event featured women’s suffrage songs performed by the High Howlers, an a capella organization on campus.
The history students’ research presentations were a part of a special research seminar focusing on women’s suffrage. The class was taught by Molly Rozum, an associate professor of history.
Rozum said the students’ research will be published on the Social Movements of the United States website. The organization is making an effort to collect biographies of suffragists from every state to celebrate the 100th anniversary of national suffrage in 2020.
“One of the things they’re trying to do is get biographies of every known suffragist activist by state. I received a list of women, and students drew names out of a hat,” Rozum said.
Each of Rozum’s 20 students wrote a 500-word biography on their South Dakotan suffragist.
“These are women who aren’t very well recorded in history,” Rozum said. “The job was to try and create a 500-word biography on what we knew about them and their work in South Dakota.”
Rozum said it’s important for students to understand historical events in the context of South Dakota.
“By studying the national (campaign) you, of course, learn the history of the United States, but looking through a local lens, you see your town, your place and how it is related to (your topic),” Rozum said. “Important things happen in South Dakota… students have thoughts that South Dakota is isolated and removed, but actually, South Dakota is a part of mainstream, important and national politics.”
Sydnee Schnell, a senior history major, presented her research on Alice Pickler, one of the earlier suffragists who traveled around South Dakota. Schnell said learning about South Dakota suffragists was interesting to her.
“It’s important because you see (women’s suffrage) is a state-by-state issue, it’s not just a national issue,” Schnell said. “We tend to learn just about the national campaigns and not the individual campaigns and how each state worked to get women’s suffrage.”
Another student discussed how Alice Pickler’s daughter was a student at USD, who once wrote home to her mother that she had seen Susan B. Anthony walking the streets of Vermillion.
Rozum said this localization can make people more excited about learning history.
“We see those national suffragist leaders like Susan B. Anthony and Anna Howard Shaw come to South Dakota because they think South Dakota is important for the national campaign,” Rozum said. “I think that people can get turned on to history by studying the local scene.”
Sara Lampert, assistant history professor and the coordinator of the women, gender and sexualities studies program, said the research helps remind us that ordinary people from South Dakota can make a change.
“We’re reminded that it’s everyday people trying to make some kind of change in their environment that brings about something as significant as the enfranchisement of women,” Lampert said. “If there’s issues that we care about today, then actually go out and do something, like joining an organization, participating in a march, or writing about something… It’s not just people in positions of power that make change.”
This celebration was one of many events for Women’s History Month. Other events included the month’s kickoff event, movie screenings, a Title IX program and workshops on feminism.
Lampert said Women’s History Month is important for remembering the women in history that made a difference.
“We tend to privilege some stories and people over others; we tend to know more about male figures than female figures in history,” Lampert said. “Having a month where we really pay attention to women in history is really important to all of us.”
Lampert also said this month is a reminder to “never take our rights for granted.”
“People fought and died for the right to vote in many different groups of people, so we really need to remember how important and how valuable that is,” Lampert said.