Nevertheless, they persisted: Emory scholars examine history of women’s suffrage

By Susan Carini | Emory Report | Oct. 6, 2020

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In 1917, Eléonore Raoul became the first woman admitted to Emory. Before and after her law school career here, she was involved in the women’s suffrage movement, becoming president of the League of Women Voters in 1920 as she advocated passage of the 19th Amendment. Photos from the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library.

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In the annals of Emory history, the name Eléonore Raoul 1920L 1979H conjures visions of a plucky young woman who slyly secured her enrollment in the Lamar School of Law in 1917 while then-Chancellor Warren Candler, a foe of coeducation, was conveniently out of town. That Raoul was the first woman admitted to Emory is rightly celebrated through the honorary degree bestowed on her in 1979, the first-year residence hall named for her in 2014 and the Trailblazer Award that bears her name.  

However, “her life was so much richer than the one story that Emory, for understandable reasons, has focused on,” says Laura Kuechenmeister, senior marketing manager at the School of Law. Author of “Women’s Suffrage, the 19th Amendment and Eléonore Raoul’s Role in the Struggle,” Kuechenmeister  grants her subject full dimensionality in the fall issue of Emory Lawyer. Indeed, readers might be surprised to know that as driven as Raoul was to exercise her right to a legal education, she abandoned the endeavor soon after graduating.

Writes Kuechenmeister, “After practicing law for one year, Raoul chose to focus on her work with the League of Women Voters. She told the Emory Wheel, ‘I didn’t appeal a case I ought to have appealed and I said to myself, “I’ve got to make a decision.” There were plenty of good lawyers around, but no one to do the kind of work I was interested in.’”

Her “kind of work” is exactly what the country itself is celebrating this year, with the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment having occurred on Aug. 18. The landmark legislation gave some women the right to vote. The qualifier is critical, for Black women were largely left behind, and acknowledgment of that fact has a central place in Emory events scheduled this fall associated with the centenary.

“The idea that white women have only had the right to vote for 100 years … shouldn’t be forgotten,” says Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science, who will participate in a 19th Amendment event associated with Homecoming later this month. “But it’s also important to realize that there were Black men and women in the South who weren’t going to get that right to vote in any meaningful way for at least another three decades.” 

Two October events examine the 19th Amendment and the broader struggle for voting rights for all Americans.

 

“Emory Election Series with Carol Anderson”
When: Oct. 8, 5:30 p.m.
Admission: Free; registration required

Carol Anderson, Charles Howard Candler Professor and chair of African American studies, will explore her research on voting rights and voter suppression during this historic year commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment. Anderson’s most recent book, “One Person, No Vote,” was a finalist for the PEN/Galbraith Award in Nonfiction and a finalist for the National Book Award Longlist in Nonfiction.

Anderson will be joined in conversation by Alex Chanen 21B, president of the Young Democrats of Emory and a student in Anderson’s course Voting Rights and Voter Suppression.

Presented by the Emory Alumni Association.

 

“Untold Stories: Race, Place and Vulnerability in the Women’s Suffrage Movement”
When: Oct. 22, 6 p.m.
Admission: Free; registration required

Pearl Dowe, Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Political Science and African American Studies, Oxford College and Emory College; Martha Albertson Fineman, Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, Emory School of Law; and Andra Gillespie, associate professor of political science, graduate faculty of sociology, and director of the James Weldon Johnson Institute, join in a 30-minute presentation followed by Q&A moderated by Emory Law Dean Mary Anne Bobinski.

Questions the panel will explore include:

  • How does the lens of vulnerability help us understand both the women’s suffrage movement and women’s disenfranchisement today?
  • How can we disrupt the dominant narratives of women’s suffrage as a movement led by white women? What role did race play in the fight for voting rights for women and what are the stories of leadership we have not heard?
  • What did suffrage look like in the South?
  • Why did it take so many years for Georgia to ratify the 19th Amendment? 

Presented by the Emory Alumni Association, Center for Women at Emory, Emory Law and Oxford College.