THH Episode 38: Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Transcript for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice. On today’s installment of Giving Voice, I have the pleasure of speaking with Susan Hall-Dotson, the African American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, and Kisha Tandy, the curator of social history at the Indiana State Museum. After our two-part series covering the women’s suffrage movement in Indiana, we wanted to take some time to talk about the suffrage movement in the African American communities at the state and national level.  In this episode we talked about inclusion, storytelling, and the importance of telling a richer version of the suffrage story than what is often heard.

And now, Giving Voice.

Alright, I’m here today with Kisha Tandy and Susan Hall Dotson and I’m so excited to be talking with the two of you today and thank you so much for coming on.

Tandy: Thank you.

Hall-Dotson: Thank you.

Beckley: Of course. So, I think that starting with a little bit of the national context of the relationship between white and Black suffragists would be a good place to start. Susan, could you talk a little bit about how that how that relationship between white and Black suffragists evolved over the decades leading up to the 19th Amendment?

Hall-Dotson: Big question!  But a brief answer is that in different places and at different times it was minimal. It is less inclusive, accepting, embracing than we would like to think about in modern times. It’s really hard to have a backward glance and say that people were marginalized – that people were left out. But they were.  Because if you look at the bigger scope of the country and how people were, say from the post-Civil War to 1920, there was lots of segregation. There was lots of discrimination. And it went from slavery and enslavement and who was free and who was not and where you could live and where you couldn’t and what legal privileges that you were able to enjoy. Which didn’t happen – Black men didn’t get the right to vote until after slavery, after emancipation. And there were white women who were upset that Black men got the right to vote before women – before white women – got the right to vote.  They didn’t live, work, play, worship in the same spaces, so it’s really hard to imagine that we had this level of camaraderie out of womanhood that superseded other modes and means of relationships.

Beckley: Yea, and I know the same goes for here in Indiana. We were still segregated up until well past the 19th Amendment, so I know that a lot of the same can be said for here in Indiana.

Kisha, could you introduce us to some of the prominent African American suffragists here in Indiana?

Tandy: Yea, so, there were many women who had been working to achieve the right to vote, who had been working for suffrage. And many of those women we’re individuals who were active in clubs and the temperance movement. And so, African American – Black women – had been fighting for so many things leading up to this and working just for suffrage – not only for themselves but just in general African American suffrage. And some of those women who were doing that were individuals like Naomi Talbert Bowmen Anderson, who was born in Michigan City, Indiana. She was born in 1843. she would leave Indiana in 1868 and go to Chicago. She would have a long history of working in the suffrage movement. And it’s interesting because she went to Chicago in 1868 and by 1869, she was speaking at a national suffrage convention. And it was also interesting because this was one of those presentations in speaking where there was some issue with her speaking there and I love to use quotes so I’ll use a quote from her – it’s one of the things said speaking in 1869, and this comes from the Chicago Tribune, from February 13, 1869. It’s – the heading from the article was “Progress of the Female Suffrage Movement in Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune reports this. They say:

“She came on behalf of the colored women of Chicago and of the State of Illinois, believing that God was on their side, and that the day was not far distant when the opponents of universal suffrage would [illegible] before the wind. The power of women would be felt and she would have the right to vote.”]

Because, when I started looking into this, this was very much a research project. This individual, Naomi Bowmen Talbert Anderson, there was information about her in a book by Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, and she looked at African American women and the struggle for the vote from 1850 to 1920. She talks about her, so it was great to already have information by an African American female scholar already in place so that I can go in and find and look for other information. And she notes in her research and in her efforts that there was – her  appearance at this convention had some issue and that because the Fifteenth Amendment hadn’t passed yet and there was some contention there and that there was some concern. So, you know, even as early as 1890, this had been written about. You know, her being there at the –  this moment and speaking about it and she did come back and have, you know, explain why she was doing and try to explain herself and different things like that. But, she was not deterred and she continued to press on towards the vote – pressing on, working in various areas. For example, she moved to Ohio, she later moved to Kansas, and to California. And she continued to speak for suffrage, continued to work towards getting African American women the right to vote – for women to vote – and we are able to follow her –  to follow what she is doing just looking through newspaper articles and getting different Snippets and different pieces of information from her in there. And even just being able to get additional information about her story, so she is one of those individuals very early on that was out and sharing and fighting for the right to vote.

Another individual, Martha Mary Harris Mason Mccurdy. She was an advocate for temperance, for a span she was a writer, and she was a suffragist. She was born in Carthage, Indiana in 1852 and her belief, what she believed in, was that the temperance movement aided in the work for women to obtain the right to vote. And she believed that ridding alcohol and having temperance would help her community, would help the African American community, the Black community. And her writing allowed her the opportunity to share and to speak out and to call attention to what was going on. She would be a writer, not only in Indiana but also she would move to Georgia and she would write for a newspaper there. She was part of the WCTU, at one point she was president of the local chapter where she was living in Georgia. And so, she was using all these various uses to, again, help to get the right to vote for African American women and she would work for a very long time for this effort. So, she was writing as early as 1895, talking about getting the right to vote. But even over 20 years later, she would still be attending a suffrage meeting after – and I should step back, after she left Georgia she returned to Indiana and was in Richmond, Indiana. By 1917, she was attending a suffrage meeting here in Indianapolis giving a presentation, so you can see that she had a very long history of working for the right to vote. And again she was one of those people early on who was identified as a suffragist and someone who was working for African Americans to have the right to vote and being able to find information about her, again through the newspaper, but then also and one of the early examinations of African Americans in history. And so those were two of the earlier women that were working – you can see that both of them have the temperance movement in common as well.

Another individual would be Lillian Thomas-Fox and here in Indianapolis we know a lot about Mrs. Fox. We talked a lot about her. She wrote for the Indianapolis Freemannewspaper, which was the first Illustrated Black newspaper in the country, she was a correspondent for the Indianapolis Newsand she was a very active woman in the club movement. She established the woman’s Improvement Club in 1904* and the state Federation of colored women’s clubs and 1905*. She worked for her community she worked for the people of Indianapolis and not only of Indianapolis, but nationally as well. Again I like quotes so I’m going to share one. Gurley Brewer, who wrote for the Indianapolis world, he was the editor, and he said of her and 1905:

“By the success she has made in a field until recently closed to women, removed the false idea of the intellectual and executive inferiority of women and has shown that fame is attained by a single standard, the standard of excellence she has demonstrated the fact that she is a woman of great force of character, will, and strong intellectuality.”

I paraphrased a little at the end, but you can get an idea of the respect he has for her. And that is great. And I go back to her involvement and being very active, she was involved in the National Afro-American Council, and this was an organization that did work for suffrage. Looking at the Indianapolis Recorder, September 1, 1900, she was elected as a vice presidents – one of the vice presidents – of the organization. And during this – this happened during the third National Convention, and in the Recorderthey had different fragments of some of the speeches and things that were made during this convention and one of the quotes that I just thought was so – that so fit the moment – I don’t have the actual person but it was recorded in the Recorder:

“Let the Afro-American people set unflinchingly by their suffrage rights. It is a life-and-death struggle.”

And that was going back to 1900. So, you can see that these early women were really working to achieve at various levels.

Beckley: Yea, so I’m that we could get a little bit of an introduction to some of those women and then the national context and we’ve met some of these women. Could one or both of you talk a little bit about how the African American suffrage movement at the national level compares to the state level? And what the relationship between the Black and white suffragists here and Indiana look like in comparison to that National level.

Hall-Dotson:  Well, I’ll take a stab for now and I’ll pass off to Kisha. I think that they looked very similar. The evidence that I’ve seen from the scholarship that’s been done, says that, although there was some  inclusion – more tokenism, if you will, van full sisterhood, inclusion, and the rallying of all the women, if you will, to join. Women of certain classes did not go and get women of other classes, whether they were Black or white to necessarily come into the fold – into the fray. And during the suffrage eras, white women from the north and the Midwest were concerned with ruffling the feathers and alienating their white sisters from the south if there was too much integration and inclusion of African American women in the movement.  So, if you look at the images, when you look at the pictures, not just the stories, but use the imagery of the day that we have, that way see, you don’t see the fully-integrated march. You don’t see large swaths and pockets of Black women at meetings, in pictures. Because we were largely, not to say can white women could not and did not ever work together or get along, but in general, the society was so polarized and separate that even in the struggle for womanhood –  for women to vote as a big block, there was still a large segment that suggested that, “No, let us get this and we’ll give it to you later.  this is not for you.”  And many white women – Northern as well as Southern, if you will – weren’t happy that Black men had received the right to vote. So, I think they paralleled – there’s not some anomaly in Indiana that suggests that it was any different than New York or Mississippi and Atlanta, as far as how people came together. So, people were working, even within the white women in the suffrage movement, there wasn’t just one monolithic group that –  maybe one group was bigger than the other in a certain place, but all types of women and different clubs and in different segments of the society were working toward achieving the right to vote. And enfranchisement, if you will, meant the same and different things to each. I would say some wanted to have voice, and particularly after Black men received the right, if you don’t see yourself as below all men, you’re fighting for that right even harder. And Black women are fighting for the right the same as they were still fighting for the right for the right to vote for the men in their lives. So, their right to vote didn’t mean that they got it. The moment they got it, they were being disenfranchised.

Beckley:  I mean, obviously, a lot of the times when we think about disenfranchisement, we’re thinking of Southern Jim Crow laws and things like that. Would you say that this applies just as much here in Indiana as it did in the south?

Hall-Dotson: I would say so, in different ways. And I think that when we use modern terms, right now we talked about implicit and explicit bias, so you may not have walked up to the courthouse and had a big sign that said, “no coloreds,” “coloreds only,”  I believe there was intimidation –  you don’t have this run on people being able to vote that’s changing the electorate –  and we could talk about that a little later –  what happens because we vote? So, people’s jobs were on the line. People were threatened with unemployment and arrested for vagrancy or some other make-up, trumped-up, charges that created this environment where everybody didn’t vote. And there were poll taxes. And there were literacy tests. And I’m sure some of those existed – and I’m not a scholar on voting rights in Indiana, but I can’t imagine, especially with the Resurgence and the emergence of the Klan in Indiana –

Beckley: Yea, On the heels of the 19th Amendment –

Hall-Dotson: Right, so, it didn’t just happen in an instant – in a vacuum. People’s beliefs and behaviors existed before even the establishment of maybe organized organizations. And if you look at 1851 and the amendments to the Constitution that say no Negroes and mulattos should enter the state, it was really clear that it was not a welcoming inviting environment. Weather was enforced and how it was enforced, it changes from place to place and date today thereafter. But even after emancipation, it took until 1874 a vote – back to why we need to vote – vote to overturn that Amendment, to have it in line with federal guidelines and amendments at that point. And in 1869 it was overturned. So, there was already this overarching, codified behavior in laws in the state to suggest that African Americans were not fully vested, fully privileged voting and other laws –  where you could live, where you can work, where you could  play, where you could worship. So, segregation and discrimination were heightened and real. And it was really no different throughout anywhere in this country. There is no place that we can look to that is some utopian state that did not have all of the above. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have to have kept fighting until 1965. So, the bull Connors of the 50s and 60s in the South existed in the North, just in different ways. And maybe and more subtle ways, but just the same.

Beckley:  I think that what you said about all of this not happening in a vacuum and  acknowledging what was going on around these women or men, just in general African Americans trying to vote, is really important to contextualize some of this. Even if there aren’t outlaw right laws like there were in the South prohibiting  r obstructing the vote, it was nonetheless intimidation and job security and things like that that are less visible, especially to historians, but still very important to keep in the context.

Hall-Dotson: Yes.

Beckley:  Kisha, did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  Yes, listening to Susan speak about this reminded me of another quote, and bear with me, Adella Hunt-Logan, and she said the following and the crisis magazine in September 1912. It was looking at Colored women as voters. Listening to Susan talk about everything that Black women and African American women were dealing with just in their lives it made me think about this cool idea that Black women have always been active, always doing, always emoting, trying to get better not only for themselves, but for their family. And so, Adella Hunt Logan really expressed this:

“More and more Colored Women are studying public questions and Civics. As they gain information and have experience in their daily vocations, and in their efforts for human betterment, they are convinced, as many other women have long ago been convinced, that their efforts would be more telling if women had the vote. Having no vote, they need not be feared or heeded. The right of petition is good, but it is much better when well voted in. Not only is the colored woman awake to reforms that may be hastened by good legislation and wise administration, but she is reported as using it for the uplift of society and for the advancement of the state.”

I mean, and that’s going back to the Crisis, which was part of the NAACP from September 1912. This idea just working not only for yourself but for all. And listening to Susan speak about that – that just stuck out to me again. And then also, just talking about that it was, you know, that, yes they were parallel, but there were also different things that were going on. So, for example, we know here in Indianapolis in June 1912 that there was a call for an African American branch of the suffrage association, so, going back to the Indianapolis recorder, African American newspaper here in Indianapolis that continues to be published today, there was a call for a suffrage meeting, and this quotation came from F. B. Ransom, he was of course, the attorney for Madam CJ Walker, and the goal of this meeting was to consider the organization of a branch colored people to be affiliated with the state organization among white people. The object of having a separate organization. It goes on explaining it is only because it is believed that the idea will be more heartily entered into, and so we look at this great call to action and we see the additional women who would work for suffrage, but in the Indianapolis Star, also in 1912, I believe the day is June 22, 1912, there was a letter that was written anonymously that was unsigned to dr. Hannah Graham who at the time was president of the Equal Suffrage Association, and the individual who wrote this letter expressed that,

“It was with deep regret that I read the announcement that a woman’s franchise League of Black women was to be formed in the city. And that you, the president of the Equal Suffrage Association, are going to show your approval of such an action by addressing them.”

So, you can see in this moment there was at least this one person. Dr. Graham expressed being more determined after receiving the letter and ridicules this unsigned note, but at least one item was published in the Indianapolis Stargoing against that, and I listen to Susan talk about and that brings up that point that you know, it was not all, as Susan said, we weren’t all living, playing, worshipping, doing all these things together. there were some concerns there. At least by some people.

Beckley: Yea, I’d never heard that quote before, so thanks for bringing that to us. That’s really interesting. I think something that a lot of especially white historians are struggling with, here in the centennial of women’s suffrage is how to celebrate the accomplishments of both white and Black suffragists while also acknowledging this unsavory part of it that Black women were excluded and that white women did make the choice to exclude them. It wasn’t just happenstance. And kind of acknowledging that the fight for suffrage wasn’t over with the 19th Amendment. How do we balance those two narratives, how do we make sure that we are telling a more full story?

Dotson: Well I suggest, what you just said though, is an interesting word choice. That because of unsavory behaviors. And as much as I agree with that statement, I also posit that it was also the lay of the land. It was how it was. So, to suggest that all of the sudden this one movement for the common good of all women eradicated, eliminated, all these other structures and systems and mores and behaviors of the day, so that women could vote – women behaved the way society behaved. And I think the narrative is what it is. The narrative will speak for itself. And I think that’s where we get caught in this emotionalism. When we are doing a backwards glance at things that are less than flattering to a group or a society or an individual –  nobody wants to be that one. Nobody wants to be that bad guy. And it’s not so much being bad guys, it’s just how people were. It is how they country and individuals, municipalities, states, how people behaved. And you may not dislike me and one suffragist didn’t dislike the other on a personal level, but they weren’t friends. They weren’t colleagues, generally speaking. The newspapers were separated for a reason, where you could live was separated by law and by de facto, de jure segregation and by behaviors. So, why are we upset about what it was? That’s what it was. And, even when someone, I’m going to take it to a national level and then bring it back to local. Let’s look at Ida B. Wells. Ida B. Wells is a national figure –  Is traveling around the country –  she was a woman, a writer, a journalist, an author, an activist, a wife, a mother, and she knows some of the leaders of these suffrage movements. She knew Frederick Douglass. She knew Stanton, and others. And guess what? So what? They were not totally embarking and embracing on her friendship. She was asked to march during the 1913 suffrage march at the back of the line. She said no. And so she waited and, as the story’s been told often, that she waited on the sidewalk until the delegates from her state of Illinois came past and then she got off the sidewalk and got in line with them. It changes what? It changes nothing. Now, there were other women who marched at the back of a line. Who did – do we know all of whom they were? No, sadly we don’t. But we do know that the founding members of Delta Sigma Theta sorority, who were collegiate from Howard University, and their advisor Mary Church Terell, was also and activists and a suffragist in her own right, marched – they decided to March at the back. Now, who else was there, we don’t know unfortunately. Do they get more credit for coming? No. In an overall National narrative? Generally, no. in the southern women, that was one of the reasons, that was the main reason why they were being asked not to come,  was as not to disenfranchised the women and I sat the women in the Southern States from coming. So, then you have Ida B. Wells who was an activist, and not just for suffrage, fighting for anti- lynching legislation, and writing about it. And traveling the country. And she too, is friends to madam C.J. Walker and they are contemporaries and their fight and struggle for equity, parody, anti-lynching legislation, anti-racism. And because of our dividing line and how we live – as I said, how we live, work, play, and worship – there are lots of people in the general populace who don’t know who Ida B. Wells is. Who may not know who Madame Walker is, right here in Indianapolis, besides from the theater Legacy that has been left behind on the footprint. And that Miss Barnes and she and others were colleagues, compatriots, writing checks, putting money where their mouth is, and not just for the Black community, but for also for women. But the question then is how do you fix a narrative? I don’t know that you fix a narrative, you just tell the truth. The truth and distinctive facts. Could people get along? Most certainly. But where people encouraging each other to come and join the frey and the fight? Clearly they weren’t. Or we would see more evidence of it. And it’s not just because the documents were lost. That’s just not how people were aligning themselves. And I guess in some regards, no different than what we see even today. Where people live, although we can come and go and live and work and play relatively fluidly, but we still tend to not always intersect in these very mixed environments. So, then it was not permissible by mores, standards, laws, the written and the unwritten. So, I don’t know that it – I don’t know that there will be more evidence that has ever presented that will make the movement look like the women’s march that we saw in 2016. Because it’s just not how we lived.

Beckley:  So, I’m kind of hearing that just tell the story how they happened and we don’t need to tiptoe around it but we just need to tell the facts and, you know, celebrate what they did and include all parts of the stories and include that context of the time that is so important. We keep coming back to the context of the time and I acknowledged and how people lived influenced how they did suffrage work. So, I think that’s really an interesting and very simple way of looking at it. It doesn’t need to be some big breakthrough that we have. We’ve just got to tell all of the stories.

Hall-Dotson:  Yeah, there isn’t a Kumbaya quote-unquote breakthrough.  there isn’t a moment where we can look back and say, “see I told you, there is an equal amount of Black women and white women all and the room fighting for suffrage.”  And if there was one, it was one. Maybe a one and done. And so the quotes that we get in the scholarship where the women are included – where there were Black women at a meeting – it wasn’t often and it wasn’t unilateral across the Nation. And one or two or three or five out of, say, 55 is not an equitable illustration of integration in the movement. And inclusion. So, I’m not suggesting that there isn’t any. There is some. But, it is far and few between and it is one in a few and it is not what we saw for example, and Washington and 2016. So, it is very different. And for a very different reasons. Not just because I don’t want to be with you because you’re Black. I don’t want to be with you because you’re a working-class woman. You know, women who were sitting at the Propylaeum having tea were not socializing with the women who were their help. Whether they were Black or white. Did they want them to have the vote? I don’t know. Probably not. So, there’s layers to this moment. Because not most Black women were like Madam Walker, but there is a community across this country of affluent educated, African Americans. As well as working class and under-educated, and in some cases still uneducated, from the vestiges of it being illegal to be educated, Black Americans who have now migrated from the south clear across the Midwest and the North. And people’s relationships are based on so many other things and not just on the color of their skin.

Beckley: Kisha, Did you have anything to add?

Tandy:  I am in complete agreement with Susan and I would just add that going back to where Black women, African American women, we’re looking at their clubs, looking at their organizations, is how we tell our story. And how we share that history. I think about Lillian Thomas Fox and her involvement with the National Association of Colored Women –  the work and effort that she was doing here in Indianapolis –  helping to establish with other Black women a clinic and a camp for- a place for patients for Black patients with TB, and just all the work that she did. Those important stories and her activism that led to, not necessarily led to but helped her to be involved and working for these things. And the idea that she was fighting against Jim Crow laws. Fighting against so many things that not only she had to deal with, but Black women, Black men, her family, her community, her fighting, just fighting for all of those different things. And so, we have to look at so many things as we tell and share that story. And knowing that, I know it’s been brought up already, but 1965 is such an important moment and such an important place in time, and even looking at today, as far as the vote and African Americans and African American women having the right to vote. So, those things and, you know, looking at that time frame and at that time span and saying, I’m going historically way back and also looking forward and beyond 1920. Because that is so important to the story and to the history. And telling a fuller story. I appreciate you, Susan, for bringing this relationship and network among women and then having friendships and working together. And striving for achievement and you mentioned Carrie Barnes, who was president of that chapter that started back in 1912. But, she and Madame Walker had been in – had participated in a number of other meetings where they were together and 1911, so a year before this meeting which was called. And Madame Walker talks about having extreme care for Carrie Barnes when she died, Carrie Barnes Ross died in 1918 and there is a letter at the Indiana Historical Society and they digitized collections where it talks, Madame Walker is writing to F. B. Ransom and it’s dated April 30th 1918, and she talks about Kerry Barnes Ross dying and that she was sad and that she felt – she had this feeling  as though she had been a daughter to her. And she just had this extreme sadness. But it speaks to that point that Susan was making this whole idea of a network and community. And we see that historically, we see that continuing today. And so I think that those are very important points and things to bring up as we talk about African American women working for the right to vote.

Beckley: I think to kind of wrap up here, I was wondering if both of you would like to share one story or one and a goat that you wish more people knew about either here in Indiana or on the national stage, what is one thing that you wish more people knew about?

Hall-Dotson:  I don’t know that it’s a story about, but it’s definitely sentiments of what it means to get the right to vote and what we do with it. And as women, we are working together, in many cases, they don’t walk in a lock step. They don’t have the same beliefs. And they don’t vote the same ultimately. So there were some women who were very much against women voting. They felt that it was for their husbands, their fathers, their sons, so all women were not unilaterally working and fighting and advocating for women’s right to get the vote. And if we take that through our body politic, what I think is missing often in discussion of suffrage, is getting the right to vote and then what do you do with it. Exercising that right to vote when you can. So, throughout the hundred-year period, how many women elected officials have there been? And where? Who voted for them? Women don’t vote as a block. There’s women who are Republicans there’s women who are Democrats there are women who are independents. They are women who don’t vote at all, still. So, even in the fight what we never look at I don’t think as we celebrate women’s right to vote, there’s this assumption that all women were advocating for women’s right to vote. And I don’t believe that’s so. Cuz it’s not so today. And what did we do with it? And what was the impact and effect of our body electorate – on a national level,  the first woman elected to congress in Indiana was in 1933. The first African American woman was in 1982. That’s Katie Hall out of Gary Indiana, and Julia Carson, the first woman and Indianapolis to go to Congress. But the first Black woman in Congress was Shirley Chisum and that was in 1969. But Virginia Jencks and 1933 out of Tera ho was the first woman from Indiana to go to Congress. And how many more women can we really think about? Just off the top of our heads I think we would have to really take a deeper Deep dive and look, in general, and it’s not that many. And why is that? If we are perpetually covering at 50% of the population and if we take partisan politics out of the equation, why are there so little, so few? All across the nation. And we have come a mighty long way. Women in politics and you see us from in the Senate now even a candidate for vice president. And judges and attorney generals and city council representatives across the country. That why so few and why so hard when we are about 50% of the population and most cases.

Beckley:  Yeah, I think that well I hope, with the centennial kind of wrapping up here in the next few months, that will give us a chance to use the research done for that as a springboard into some of this, what you’re talking about, looking at voting patterns and women actually participating in the political process. Because I think that’s just as important. Getting the vote is obviously, a milestone, but it’s just a milestone on the road to what we’ve actually done with the vote. So, I’m interested to see the scholarship that is going to be coming up in the next few years on that sort of thing.

Kisha, did you have a story or an anecdote or anything that you wish more people knew about?

Tandy:  I would just like to add, tell the stories of African-American women. And invite women living today to come and to tell their stories. So that a more complete history can be shared. There is –  I was working on this project –  this was, truly, my research project for me, to see what I could find, what information was available, using African American newspapers, using African American manuscript collections or whatever I could find to be able to bring information to be able to share, and finding women who had been in Indiana, I was very specifically  focused on women from Indiana and trying to find as many people outside of Indianapolis as well to be able to help tell the stories. And finding women who have lived in Indiana, had gone on to other places and who were making a difference there. So, being able to have their voices, having their records, the narratives, being able to access that, is so important. And like you, I am also excited about the scholarship that is coming. One individual that I am looking forward to reading her book, I have not read the book yet, but it was actually just published, but I have been listening to her talk and to share the information that she has found and she did look nationally, is Martha S. Jones  and her book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All. And so, I am definitely looking forward to continuing to research to see what else I can find about what happened in Indiana and looking forward to seeing what else is out there. But also, just researching and telling the stories of African American women and Indiana.

Beckley:  I know that the Indiana Historical Bureau is also very interested in those stories and we’re looking to you and to others to find those stories and we are doing our own work so, hopefully this is, while it is the centennial celebration, it’s also the spark that we needed to kind of start a lot of these conversations like the one that we’re having today, to continue into the future and the future historians will pick up the threads and be able to work off of what we’re doing now.

Thank you both so much for being on the show today and I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me.

Hall-Dotson: Thanks for having me.

Tandy: Thank you so much.

Beckley:  Once again, I want to thank both Kisha and Susan for taking the time to talk with me today. If you’re interested in learning more about what their work or about Black stop or just here in Indiana or nationally, we have some useful links in the show notes which can be found at we’ll be back next month with a new episode of talking Hoosier history. And in the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and Twitter for daily doses of Indiana history tidbits. Subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier history wherever you get your podcast. Thanks for listening!

*Should be 1903

*Should be 1904

Show Notes for Giving Voice: Susan Hall Dotson and Kisha Tandy

Learn more about this topic with the sources below:

Martha Jones, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Basic Books, 2020.

Christine Fernando, “Black History is American History: How Black Hoosiers Contributed to Suffrage Movement,” Indianapolis Star. 

Melissa Block, “Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or Men,” NPR. 

Rosalyn Terborg-Penn, African American Women in the Struggle For the Vote, 1850-1920Indiana University Press, 1998.

Lillian Thomas Fox, Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

Mr. A, Majors, M.D., Noted Negro Women: Their Triumphs and ActivitiesDonohue & Henneberry, Printers, 1983.

Afro-American Encyclopedia; Thoughts, Doings, and Sayings of the Race, Haley & Florida, 1895.

Indiana Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs marker:

THH Episode 37: Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Transcript and Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns

Jump to Show Notes

Beckley: This is the second of a two-part series covering the long path to women’s suffrage in Indiana. If you haven’t listened to the first installment of this episode – Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Comes Slowly, you might want to do that now as it covers the roots of the suffrage movement in the Hoosier state.

[Cannon blast]

Beckley: The sound of cannon fire rang out in the gloomy pre-dawn air of a neighborhood just northwest of downtown Indianapolis. People sprang from bed, ready for a day that loomed large before them. But this wasn’t the beginning of a battle, rather, it was the end of a war – the war for the 19th amendment. The women of the fifth ward, a predominately African American voting district, rose with the sun, donned their hats, coats, and shoes, and by the time polls opened at 8:00, were waiting in lines to cast their first ever ballot. Some of these women may have been involved in the suffrage movement for decades– had been marching, speaking, petitioning…demanding the vote – and now, on November 2, 1920, their voices would finally, officially be heard. A few of these women appear in that day’s issue of the Indianapolis News under the headline “Waiting their turn to vote.” They had been waiting long enough, now was the time for action.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

When we left off in the last episode, we were on the precipice of a global event that would change the landscape of the suffrage fight – World War I. But even before U.S. entry into the war, there was a lot for Hoosier women to be hopeful about when it came to suffrage. The 1917 legislative session brought about three major suffrage measures, all of which passed.

Each of the these differed slightly – the Woman’s Suffrage Act proposed partial Suffrage, allowing women to vote for some state and local officials, presidential electors, and delegates to the proposed state Constitutional Convention while leaving out voting for higher offices such as governor, state representatives, or senators. The second measure, the Beardsley Amendment, would strike the word “male” as criteria to vote from the state constitution, ultimately granting women the same suffrage rights as men. If passed, the amendment would be heard again in the 1919 legislative session before being put to a referendum where, ironically, only men would vote on whether women would earn the full rights of citizenship. The third and final measure took the form of a Constitutional Convention Bill. The hope was that with a brand-new constitution, universal suffrage could be written into the new document, making women’s suffrage less susceptible to being overturned. Each of these bills passed relatively easily and each held the tantalizing possibility of expanded voting rights for women.

Well, there it is. One year, three passed suffrage laws. That’s equal voting rights for women in Indiana, done and dusted, right? Of course not. When has it ever been that easy? In May, less than two months after the legislative session adjourned, the Constitutional Convention law was challenged in court on the grounds that it was an “unnecessary public expense.” In August, the partial suffrage law was also challenged on similar grounds – it would simply cost too much to effectively double the number of voters in the state. So, the two laws that would have immediately granted women in Indiana the right to vote were in jeopardy with the third stuck in limbo for at least two years.

Despite these blows, suffrage workers in the state pressed on. The Legislative Council of Indiana Women was crucial both in garnering support for the cause throughout the state and in getting the 1917 suffrage measures passed. Once that was done, they turned their sights to the next step – educating women about politics and registering them to vote. The LCIW and other suffrage groups weren’t going to let the uncertain future of the suffrage measures stop them from being prepared If the laws were to make it through the courts unscathed.

As historian Anita Morgan writes in her book, We Must be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Cora Goodrich, first lady of Indiana, called for the political education of Hoosier Women at a celebration of the suffrage gains at the 1917 session, saying:

Goodrich read by Marino: We have been given the sacred power to help make a new constitution. We are not trained servants and it is most important that we study the need of the present constitution and that we make no mistake as to the attitude of the delegates toward prohibition and suffrage.

Beckley: Various suffrage organizations around the state – The Legislative Council, Equal Suffrage Association, Woman’s Franchise League, and others – answered that call. According to Morgan, the Equal Suffrage Association hosted civics courses, and included provisions for women who worked outside of the home who wished to attend. The Indianapolis Star began publishing a series of articles aimed at educating women about the mechanics of voting, authored by Franchise League member Kate Thompson. African American women’s groups invited Dr. Amelia Keller and Cora Goodrich to speak about citizenship issues at an Indianapolis church. Grant County held suffrage schools for both men and women at the local library. But all of that work to educate the women of Indiana would have been for naught if they weren’t registered to vote when election day finally arrived.

As registration opened, it was clear that this wouldn’t be an issue. Suffrage organizations mobilized to ensure that the women of Indiana would be ready for their day at the polls. Franchise League members became notaries and organized trips into rural farming communities, bringing with them blank registration forms to ensure women who were unable to register in person were able to vote. Franchise League member Celeste Barnhill spent all her spare time taking incorrectly filled out registration forms back to women to have them corrected, ensuring they would be able to vote when the time came. In one rather amusing instance, she returned a form to a woman who had failed to provide her year of birth on the form. When asked to correct it, the registrant in question stated,

[Record scratch]

Quote read by Marino: Oh, I didn’t forget it. I just thought it wasn’t any of your business.

Beckley: In the end, Mrs. Barnhill convinced the registrant to fill out the correct information, and one more woman was ready to make her voice heard.

In some places, women registrants outnumbered men. Women of all ages and from all backgrounds rushed to get their registration cards in. In Muncie, Nelle Reed registered to vote because her husband died of alcoholism and through Prohibition legislation, she hoped to prevent her son from suffering the same fate. She was illiterate, so she simply signed an “X” for her name. In Vanderburgh County, all women at the Rathbone Home, an institution for single women, registered to vote. Gary’s first registrant was a 23-year-old woman, while in Bedford, one woman in her 80s and another in her 90s were driven to their registration site, where they signed up with trembling hands. And, in Bartholomew County, Black women were at the front of the registration line.

Unfortunately, all of this mobilization, excitement, and anticipation was for nothing. Defeat came quick on the heels of the successes of the 1917 legislative session. In July, the Indiana Supreme Court declared the Constitutional Convention law unconstitutional and in October the Woman’s Suffrage Act of 1917, Hoosier women’s last hope for immediate, albeit partial suffrage, was ruled unconstitutional just 11 days before the election.

Interwoven through all of this – in between the education, the push for registration, and the ongoing court battles, women were engaged in war work. Upon the U.S. entry into World War I on April 6, 1917, suffrage organizations were in the ideal position to organize Hoosier women to help the war effort – after all, they’d been organizing women for decades.

Just as factories on the home front shifted from peacetime to wartime production, suffrage organizations utilized their pre-existing networks to efficiently adapt to war work. To them, war work and suffrage went hand in hand – what better way to convince skeptics of their loyalty and patriotism? Surely, if they assisted in this war, which was framed as a defense of Democratic principles, the injustice of the women’s disenfranchisement couldn’t persist much longer.

Women around the state threw themselves into their work. Before the state itself organized for defense, Julia E. Landers of Indianapolis organized the Indiana League for Woman’s Service, which was tasked with helping the Jeffersonville quartermaster locate women willing to make 2 million shirts for the army. Ten thousand southern Indiana women answered the call and made the garments in their homes.

Katherine Greenough of Indianapolis led Woman’s Franchise League Liberty Loan drives and devised a plan to encourage League members to purchase bonds. Her efforts raised over one and a half million dollars in bonds. When the state did organize for defense, one woman was named to serve on each county defense council. That woman would establish a Woman’s Committee who would then organize the women throughout the county. Franchise League member Julia Henderson organized the Fourteen-Minute women, who traveled throughout the state giving talks on war-related topics such as food conservation, food production, registration of women for war work, child welfare, liberty loans, and home economics.

Marion County’s African American woman’s committee, made up of the Black members of the Marion County Council of Defense Woman’s Committee’s, named chairwomen to oversee food production, child welfare, foreign relief, education, public speaking, and more. Indianapolis’s Ella Clay organized Black women to deliver talks throughout the city, similar to those given by the Fourteen Minute Women. Flanner House, an African American Community Center, hosted first-aid and nurse training classes, where over 200 women were instructed. Flanner House also hosted its own Red Cross unit, which, according to Dr. Morgan, made items like pajamas, shirts, and surgical bags for the war effort.

When it was all said and done, 626,292 Hoosier women had registered for war work, the second highest number in the nation. Unlike during the Civil War, women didn’t drop the suffrage cause completely during this crisis.

Members of the Indianapolis branch of the Franchise League spent much of their time at the Red Cross workroom at the W.H. Block Department Store knitting socks and slippers for soldiers alongside volunteers from local charities and churches. But more than knitting was happening in the workroom – as the Hoosier Suffragist put it,

Suffragist read by Marino: A great opportunity is at hand, not to make suffragists into Red Cross workers, but to make workers into suffragists.

Beckley: When there was a lull in war work, League members hit the streets to recruit new members, collected signatures for a petition to Congress regarding a federal amendment, went on suffrage auto tours similar to those mentioned in the last episode, and created suffrage schools to prepare speakers.

One such “Suffrage School” was organized in June 1918 in Merom, Indiana. This week-long course taught attendees how to spread the “suffrage doctrine,” as they put it. The women studied topics such as the history of suffrage, speaking, organizing, and finances. Students took a journalism class and practiced writing for publications. They would debate each other about suffrage, one taking the pro and one the anti side. They practiced their public speaking skills in front of crowds in nearby towns, and there was even day care provided for attendees with young children.

It was essential for Hoosier suffragists to be prepared – the 1919 legislative session was just around the corner and with it came another chance to finally secure the vote. As the 1919 session opened, the playing field was set:  two of the three suffrage measures passed in 1917 had been ruled unconstitutional. The Beardsley Amendment, which would remove the “male” qualifier from the Indiana state constitution, was up for the second vote in the General Assembly. If it passed again, it would go to a referendum. World War I had ended just two months earlier, and women, who had worked tirelessly throughout the war in support of their government, expected equal voting rights to follow. Both the house and senate had expressed support for increased woman suffrage. Governor Goodrich himself urged the General Assembly to enact suffrage legislation in his opening address. Change was in the air.

But, this was the fight for suffrage. It had been dragging on and on for well over half a century, and by this time, after so many defeats, many suffragists saw a federal amendment as their only hope for a suffrage measure that wouldn’t inevitably be overturned in the courts. And there was a version of the Anthony Amendment – which would become the 19th Amendment – winding its way through the United States Congress after having failed to pass in September 1918 by just two votes. However, suffragists had learned not to put all their eggs in one basket – they continued to push for suffrage measures at the state level.

The first new suffrage measure, created by Franchise League leaders, was for partial suffrage. Similar to that passed in the 1917 session but revised to resolve the issues deemed unconstitutional, this bill passed easily. Then came a bit of a curve ball that’s hard to understand, even with the hindsight we have today.

On January 14, 1919, the Indianapolis News announced that the Beardsley Amendment, which was up for the second and final vote before going to a referendum, would be withdrawn and re-introduced as a new amendment, which would have to once again pass two separate legislative sessions and a referendum. This was being done with the support of the Woman’s Franchise League. From our standpoint, this seems unthinkable – suffragists had been working to secure the vote for nearly 70 years and this was the closest they had ever come to getting a constitutional amendment passed. Why allow it to be delayed for at least another two years? The answer seems to be two-fold.

First, the General Assembly had several other amendments it wanted to vote on in the 1919 session, but if the suffrage bill was passed and put to a referendum, all others would be put on hold until the next session, two years later. Thus, a new Beardsley amendment could be proposed in 1919 and passed in 1921 without obstructing the other proposals.

The second reason for the withdrawal and re-introduction of the Beardsley Amendment is . . . less bureaucratic and more distasteful.  The new version of the amendment, like the original, struck out the word “male,” thus providing full suffrage to women. It also removed suffrage rights from immigrants voting on what was called “first papers,” which were basically forms proving that an immigrant intended to apply for citizenship. Throughout the war, suffragists had often used anti-immigrant language to make a case for the vote, capitalizing on increased nativism brought about by the war. They painted immigrants as ignorant, disloyal, and undeserving of a say in governing a country that was not “theirs,” and they contrasted them with the educated, loyal, all-American women who had worked so hard for the war effort. In August 1918, Indianapolis Suffragist Grace Julian Clarke wrote:

Clarke read by Marino: Another reason for considering suffrage a war measure is found in the fact that while we are sending millions of our young men across the water to fight for democracy and civilization, being thereby deprived of their votes in important elections here at home, we yet permit millions of pro-Germans to exercise this function.

Beckley: It’s hard, even for me, to look at my historical heroes and see their flaws. It would be easy for us to avoid the nativism of the suffrage movement and celebrate women’s suffrage wholeheartedly. It would also be easy to portray Indiana’s suffrage movement as being integrated harmoniously – Black and white suffragists working side by side for a common goal. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. There were Black suffragists across the state, but particularly in Indianapolis, and Black women attended large, integrated suffrage meetings and hosted white suffragists at their own meetings– but in reality, Black and White suffragists often worked parallel to each other (even if fighting for the same goal) and operated out of separate groups.  As Susan Hall-Dotson, African-American history collections coordinator at the Indiana Historical Society, points out in an interview with the Anderson Herald Bulletin, Black and white women living in Indiana in the early 20th century were segregated, and we had a largely segregated suffrage movement as a result.

Ignoring these unsavory elements of historical events and figures to only focus on the positives is dishonest and just bad history – we must recognize the flaws of these figures and doing so doesn’t erase their achievements – it makes them human.

This new Beardsley Amendment, which at once expanded and contracted voting rights throughout the state, passed easily and would be voted on again in 1921. However, by then, the “Suffrage question” was settled, or at least, so it seemed.

The United States Congress finally passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in June 1919, after five failed attempts in as many months. Indiana suffragists immediately began calling for the governor to convene a special session of the General Assembly to ratify the 19th Amendment. The governor, however, wanted to wait to see what other states would do before spending time and money on a special session. Months later, with still no sign of a special session, Franchise League president Helen Benbridge delivered petitions signed by 86,000 Hoosiers, saying,

Benbridge read by Marino: As we believe that the calling of a special session of the Indiana legislature is a matter of a few days away, or at the outside, a few weeks, we want you to realize what an enormous demand there is over the state for ratification.

Beckley: Finally, Governor Goodrich agreed to call a special session, as long as suffrage was the only topic of discussion.

On January 16, 1920, Indiana ratified the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The vote was 43 to 3 in the Senate and 93 to 0 in the House.  Hundreds of women were in attendance, adorned with the yellow flower that represented suffrage. The Indianapolis News reported:

News read by Marino: The main floor and gallery of the senate were packed when the suffrage resolution was taken up. Several hundred women were in the chamber, and standing room was at a premium.

Beckley: The News continued:

News read by Marino: As soon as the house passed the resolution, a band in the hall began playing ‘Glory, Glory Hallelujah.’ Women joined in the singing. Scores rushed into the corridor and began embracing. Many shook hands and scenes of wildest joy and confusion prevailed.

Beckley: Women literally danced in the halls – Indiana’s first lady Cora Goodrich was seen waltzing with Mary Tarkington Jameson as the band played “Until We Meet Again.”

Governor Goodrich signed the ratification resolution surrounded by the state’s leading suffrage workers, who had dedicated their lives to this very achievement.

Seven months later, on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and the measure became law, women around the Hoosier state celebrated. In Terre Haute, women staged a “whale of a parade,” and families lined the streets shouting and cheering as they passed. Suffrage workers in Fort Wayne hired an airplane to drop thousands of circulars over the city announcing the victory and encouraging women to register. In Indianapolis, women hosted a “jollification luncheon” at the Claypool hotel where the state song of Tennessee was sung as a tribute to the state that sealed the suffrage deal. On August 28 at noon, cities and town around the state sounded factory steam whistles and church bells in a collective celebration of the end of a struggle that had lasted lifetimes.

The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, imbuing women with the full rights of citizenship. It expanded voting rights to millions. But not to all people living in America.  Barriers preventing Native men and women from voting weren’t removed nation-wide until 1947. Asian Americans weren’t eligible for citizenship, and thus to vote, until 1952. While there were no state-wide legal restrictions placed on Black voters in Indiana, voter suppression laws in southern states limited Black men and women from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Even in northern states, like Indiana, intimidation tactics employed by groups like the KKK suppressed Black turnout throughout the 1920s. Today, American citizens living in Washington D.C. and U.S. territories have no vote in congress, while voter I.D. laws, voter purges, and the disenfranchisement of felons disproportionately affect people of color. The 19th amendment was a monumental accomplishment, but it was just a step on the long road to equality that we’re still travelling today.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is produced by the Indiana Historical Bureau, a division of the Indiana State Library This episode was written me, Lindsey Beckley, with research supplied by Jill Weiss Simins and Nicole Poletika. Sound engineering by Justin Clark and production by Jill Weiss Simins. We’ll be back in two weeks with another installment of Giving Voice. Until then, find us on Facebook and Twitter as the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to like, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Show Notes for Indiana Women’s Suffrage: The New Day Dawns


“Suffrage Petitions are Signed by 86,000,” Indianapolis News, November 18, 1916, 23,

“Senate Passes Bill to Remodel Capitol,” Indianapolis News, January 25, 1917, 17,

“Convention Bill Is Signed,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1917, 10,

“House Now to Act on Suffrage, Richmond Item, February 9, 1917, 1,

“Department Club Action,” Indianapolis News, February 6, 1917, 22,

“Governor to Sign Maston Bill Monday,” Richmond Item, February 25, 1917, I,

“Indiana Suffrage Victory Important, Says Mrs. Catt,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 22,

“Suffrage Resolution Adopted by the House,” Indianapolis News, March 5, 1917, 16,

“The Star’s Home Study Class for Women Voters,” Indianapolis Star, March 25, 1917, 33,

“First Women to Register,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17,

“Indiana Women Vitally Interested in the Constitutional Convention as Shown by Their Rush to Qualify as Voters at the Special Elections,” Indianapolis News, June 30, 1917, 17,

“Stiff Blow Is Given by High Court,” (Muncie) Star Press, July 14, 1917, 1,

“Indiana Women Denied the Right to Vote; Marion Superior Court Holds the Law Is Unconstitutional,” Princeton Daily Clarion, September 17, 1917, 1,

“Will Talk Wherever They Get the Chance,” Indianapolis News, October 16, 1917, 1.

“Suffrage Law Is Invalid; Women Rest Hope on Congress,” Indianapolis Star, October 27, 1917, 1,

“Suffrage School is in Full Swing Today,” Rushville Republican, June 25, 1918, 6,

Grace Julian Clarke, “Public Opinion Much Changed as to Suffrage” Indianapolis Star, August 11, 1918, 37.

“Suffrage Amendment of 1917 to Give Way,” Indianapolis News, January 14, 1919, 1,

“Indiana Suffrage Plans Started,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1919, 1,

“Suffrage Act Is Now Signed by Governor,” Indianapolis News, February 7, 1919, 20,

“Senate Adopts Suffrage by Vote of 56 to 25,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1,

“Women After Extra Session,” Indianapolis Star, June 5, 1919, 1,

“G.O.P. Assembly leaders Seek Quiet Session” Indianapolis Star, January 16, 1920, 1,

“Scores of Women Attend Session,” Indianapolis News, January 16, 1920, 1,

“In Any Event This was a Parade. An All-Auto Victory Procession,” Indianapolis News, August 21, 1920, 1.

“Women Parade at Terre Haute, Indianapolis Times, August 21, 1920, 3,

“Suffragists Jollify Over Ratification,” Indianapolis News, August 28, 1920, 1,

“Celebrate for Suffrage Today,” Fort Wayne Sentinel, August 28, 1920, 2,

“Suffrage Workers Celebrate Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, August 29, 1920, 12,

“Women Celebrate Suffrage Victory,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, September 9, 1920, 13,

“Voters of Indiana Go to Polls Early,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1,

“Riot of Colors in Voting Line,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1,

“Voting Described as Heavy and Fast,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1920, 1, 10, Hoosier State Chronicles.


The Hoosier Suffragist, August 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 2.

The Hoosier Suffragist, September 1917, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, October 1917, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, April 1918, 3.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 1.

The Hoosier Suffragist, June 1918, 2.


Anita Morgan, We Must Be Fearless: The Woman Suffrage Movement in Indiana, Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2020.

Further Reading

On Black Suffragists:

Melissa Block, Yes, Women Could Vote After the 19th Amendment – But Not All Women. Or MenNPR, August 26, 2020.

Rebecca R. Bibbs, Historian: Suffrage largely was white women’s movement(Anderson) Herald Bulletin, August 22, 2020.

Christine Fernando, ‘Black history is American history’: How Black Hoosiers contributed to suffrage movementIndyStar, August 27, 2020.