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Highlighting Little-Known Stories of Women in History

Posted on July 16, 2018

By Lynn Yeakel

Women’s Equality Day is a nationally recognized day celebrated each year on August 26—the date on which the 19th Amendment became law 98 years ago, granting American women the right to vote. Here at Vision 2020, we host the annual Toast to Tenacity™ to honor the suffragists who fought for this right. We raise a glass of grape juice, as Alice Paul did when the Amendment was ratified in 1920 during Prohibition.

But Paul wasn’t the only important activist and leader in the fight for the right to vote. Her well-known story often overshadows the historical contributions of other suffragists, especially some women of color who championed both gender and racial equality. As we prepare for Toast to Tenacity 2018, here are some of these lesser-known leaders.

1. Mary Terrell – From Memphis, Tennessee, Mary Terrell worked closely with Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and was involved in the National American Woman Suffragist Association and the NAACP. In 1919, she picketed the White House and became known as “the mother of the sit-in.” A charter member of the NAACP, she remained an equality fighter even in her later years.

2. Ida Wells – An advocate for racial and gender equality, Ida Wells established the Alpha Suffrage Club in Illinois. She marched alongside white suffragists in D.C. and refused to walk at the end of the line where the black marchers were assigned. She devoted almost her entire life to suffrage and looked for ways to bridge divides within the movement.

3. Mrs. J Frankie Pierce – An outspoken advocate for equal suffrage of black and white women, Frankie Pierce was so prominent that when the Tennessee League of Women Voters had its first meeting in 1920, she was invited to be one of its first speakers. She went on to establish a vocational school for girls in Tennessee.

4. Lugenia Burns Hope – Born in 1871, Lugenia Hope was one of the first African American social workers, organizing and mobilizing people around racial and gender fairness. She became a national voice for equal suffrage and famously stated that “the ballot is a safeguard of the nation.” She devoted her entire life to civil rights with a long stretch focused on women’s suffrage leadership, in addition to other social justice causes.

This Women’s Equality Day, let's all take a moment to reflect on the contributions of the many people who fought for women’s right to vote. Vision 2020 is committed to honoring the past by telling the untold stories of women.