Women’s History Month 2021 “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced”

From the Executive Director’s Desk

Guest Essay – Sheri Bishop

Women’s History Month 2021
“Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced”

The presidential proclamation for Women’s History Week in 1982 read, “American women of every race, class, and ethnic background have made historical contributions to the growth and strength of the Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways.…Recognizing that the many contributions of American women have at times been overlooked in the annals of American history, I encourage all citizens to observe this important week by participating in appropriate ceremonies and activities planned by individuals, governmental agencies, and private institutions and associations throughout the country.” In 1987, the first presidential proclamation for Women’s History Month, read: “Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim March 1987 as Women’s History Month. I call upon all Americans to mark this month with appropriate observances to honor the achievements of American women.”

Susan Scanlan, a long-time expert on public and gender policy and President Emeritus of the Women’s Research & Education Institute (WREI), helped author legislation that established the month of March as Women’s History Month. Congress considered it and passed the legislation, Public Law 100-9. Since 1995, each president has issued an annual proclamation designating March as “Women’s History Month”. The National Women’s History Alliance selects and publishes the yearly theme. Since many of the women’s suffrage centennial celebrations originally scheduled for 2020 were curtailed, the organization is extending the annual theme for 2021 to “Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.” (NWHM)

Historically, much blood, sweat and tears have been shed to uphold the notion that every citizen should be able to cast one vote during our US democratic elections.  A common misconception is that every American has always been afforded the right to do so, and that when we do, we can elect a government that represents us. Of course, that wasn’t true in the 19th century, and unfortunately, it’s still not true today. (Free, L) Marginalized people in our country are challenging gerrymandering and voter suppression practices during every election.

However, the woman’s right to vote – after a 72-year hard-fought battle that included street speaking on soapboxes, propaganda blitzes, marches on Washington, DC, parades, pageants, protests, and incarcerations – lead to triumph. (PBS) After the 19th Amendment became law on August 26, 1920, tens and now hundreds of millions of women have the agency, the power, and the ability to affect the trajectory of our lives via the ballot box. In many arenas we have earned acquisition of political clout and influence. This idea, exemplified in 2021, is more important than ever.

As with many other historical issues in America, during this monumental effort to gain women’s voting rights, our country’s people were operating under the idea that one group’s narrative was interfering with another’s. (Hooker, DA) The women’s suffrage movement came on the heels of the social and political fight for Black men to gain their right to vote. The leaders of the early suffrage movement thought that white women should have been given the right to vote before Black men. The white female activists did not acknowledge that, “We are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity.” (Robbins) Eventually, as articulated by Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement of the past and evidenced in the current Black Lives Matter movement of today, freedom, equality and justice are deeply rooted in every aspect of life for all citizens.  He encouraged us to acknowledge that all people have to be a part of the work. (Course Hero)

This March, in 2021, we are post an unprecedented four-year presidential term, post a political insurrection, post a 180-degree turn-around during the 2020 election, and in the midst of great hope.  For the first time in America, there seems to be a majority anti-racist sentiment.  There is a great opportunity for us as educators – Montessori educators that teach for peace and reconciliation – to celebrate and share the whole story of the suffragist movement and the “valiant women of the vote that refused to be silent.”

Let’s read and create stories that are age-appropriate about the diverse groups and individuals that championed this cause. Within our classrooms, let’s explore Pelosi, Omar, Clinton, Waters, Joni Ernst, Marsha Blackburn, and AOC. Let’s talk about how Stacy Abrams has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize for her activism, and that through her political work and voting rights work she literally helped change the outcome of a national election by working to flip state party affiliation. Let’s talk about how California managed to become the first state to grant voting rights to women nine years before the 19th amendment.  Contemplate how to align this accomplishment with the truth that Kamala Harris, representing California, was one of only two Senators of color in the US senate, and that in 2020 she became the first woman of African and South Asian descent elected as the Vice President of the United States of America. What’s different about California vs. other states in the nation?

Talk and teach about how Shelly Simonds, a local Virginia entrepreneur, an educator, and a community leader lost a seat in the 94th District in the Virginia House of Delegates by one vote and how every vote in an election is important. Let’s discuss how local and state elections impact us even more than national elections and how representation of women as school board members, city council members, mayors, attorney generals, sheriffs, etc., can diversify political perspectives and outcomes and impact our community success. Let’s instill that “voting is one among many crucial tools in the activist toolbox. This was the case in 1920, fifty years later amidst the demands of the women’s liberation movement, and in 2020 during the national election process. Women have often sought change through voting or running for office, but they have also worked behind the scenes in government and pushed through grassroots activism.” (Seidman)

Let’s also not be silent about how women are playing an active role keeping life as normal as possible as our nation strives to survive the COVID-19 pandemic. Women are scientists, doctors, nurses, and janitors in healthcare environments, teachers, assistants, and librarians at the schools, truckers, grocery store clerks, waitresses in restaurants. Women are mothers and plumbers and welders and auto mechanics. We are helping to keep the country moving just as we have done in the past…just as we will do in the future.

Finally, I challenge all Montessori educators to become aware and involved in your local community political arena. Your involvement in community and state level advocacy efforts can truly impact that access and quality of education delivered to our most precious resource…all children.

Ayize Sabater, Ed.D.
AMI/USA Executive Director
Sheri L. Bishop, M.Ed.


Public Law 100-9, 1987. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/STATUTE-101/pdf/STATUTE-101-Pg99.pdf

National Women’s History Museum (NWHM). ‘National History Month’. https://www.womenshistory.org/womens-history/womens-history-month

Free, L. (Host) August 2020. “Episode 1: Myths and Sentiments”, Humanities New York. https://humanitiesny.org/our-work/amended-podcast/

PBS. July 2020. She Resisted: Strategies of Suffrage [interactive audio/visual]. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/interactives/she-resisted/sb/introduction/1

Robbins, SR. ‘We Are All Bound Up Together: Embrace the Powerful Heritage of Frances E. W. Harper’s Women’s Suffrage Rhetoric’. Moving from Archive to Action. October 27, 2018. https://sarahruffingrobbins.com/2018/10/27/we-are-all-bound-up-together-embrace-the-powerful-heritage-of-frances-e-w-harpers-womens-suffrage-rhetoric/ 

Course Hero. (2018, October 23). I Have a Dream Speech Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/I-Have-a-Dream-Speech/

Hooker, DA .Transformative Community Conferencing. Good Books. 2016. New York, New York.

Seidman, S. 100 Years with the 19th Amendment. August 21, 2020. Museum of the City of New York. https://www.mcny.org/story/100-years-19th-amendment?gclid=CjwKCAiAm-2BBhANEiwAe7eyFBhW7nTNW1h8ZkO1UO8LpTP4n0TF5jjTt6xK20YqoWJtp-TC8BoS7BoCXYMQAvD_BwE

Diverse Suffragist Activists and Organizations to Explore 

  • Sojourner Truth:  C. 1797(?) – 1883 ( Great opportunity to teach “Ain’t I a Woman” Poem)
  • Charlotte Vandine Forten, Sr:  (1785 – 1884)
  • Harriet Forten Purvis (1810 – 1875):
  • Margaretta Forten (1806 -1875):
  • Harriet (Hattie) Purvis, Jr:
  • Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (1825–1911),
  • Mary Church Terrell (1863 – 1954)
  • Fannie Lou Hammer (1917-1977)
  • The African American Woman’s Club Movement
  • Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Howard University
  • Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) (Great opportunity to teach about the coin)
  • Alice Paul (1885-1977)
  • Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902)
  • Lucy Stone (1818-1893)
  • Frances E.W. Harper (1825-1911)
  • American Equal Rights Association (AERA)
  • The National Woman Suffrage Association,(NWSA)
  • The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA)
  • Mabel Ping-Hua Lee (1897-1966)
  • Luisa Capetillo (1879-1922)
  • Zitkála-Šá aka Gertrude Simmons Bonnin (1876-1938)


PBS. July 7, 2020. The Vote [film] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/films/vote/

PBS. July 2020. She Resisted: Strategies of Suffrage [interactive audio/visual]

Jones, MS. Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for AllBasic Books. 2020. New York.

US National Archives.  August 26, 2020. Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All [Video] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1ic4pnvy8A

Schneider, GS. ‘A single vote leads to a rare tie for control of the Virginia legislature’. December 19, 2017. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/democrat-wins-va-house-seat-in-recount-by-single-vote-creating-50-50-tie-in-legislature/2017/12/19/3ff227ae-e43e-11e7-ab50-621fe0588340_story.html


“Who Was”  Book Series

  • Ida B. Wells
  • Susan Anthony
  • Sojourner Truth
  • What is the Women’s Right Movement