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UK Rosenberg College of Law Hosts Special Events to Mark Anniversary of 19th Amendment

The University of Kentucky J. David Rosenberg College of Law engaged students, faculty, staff, alumni, and others in discussions about equality and voting through a series of events in October commemorating the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

In addition, the law school had the privilege of housing  for two weeks "100 Years After the 19th Amendment: Their Legacy, and Our Future,” a traveling exhibit created by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Law Library of Congress. The six-banner, free-standing exhibit features historic photos and artifacts, and it details the story of the battle for ratification and outlines the challenges that remain. Since late 2019, the exhibit has traveled from state to state, stopping at law schools, courthouses, and libraries across the country.

The 19th Amendment celebration at UK Rosenberg Law included a trivia night hosted by the Women’s Law Caucus student organization; a discussion about the history of women at the University of Kentucky by the UK Women and Philanthropy Network; a conversation about voting rights with Joshua A. Douglas, Ashland, Inc.-Spears Distinguished Research Professor of Law; and a talk about the history of the passage of the 19th Amendment by Professor Emerita Carolyn S. Bratt.

Law Library staff created a comprehensive website to accompany the ABA 19th Amendment Traveling Exhibit:

At the kickoff event, Roula Allouch, a 2006 graduate of UK Rosenberg Law and a member of the ABA Commission on the 19th Amendment, introduced the traveling exhibit. Allouch said ABA President Judy Perry Martinez created the special commission in part to celebrate the 100 years of women’s constitutional right to vote but also to educate the public about the battle for women’s suffrage. The exhibit allows viewers to follow, step by step, the process to the ratification of the 19th Amendment.

“As I reflect on bringing this exhibit to my home law school and fellow Kentuckians, I think it gives us an opportunity to commemorate and celebrate because it’s important to celebrate accomplishments. But it’s also important to recognize what the 19th Amendment’s limitations were and what it didn’t do in particular for black women and women of color,” Allouch said.

Allouch’s parents were originally from Syria, a country in a civil war as people struggle for the right to participate in their country, communities and democracy. Allouch said it is important to not only recognize what others did in the past but also move forward as some communities continue to face voter suppression and voting rights challenges.

“While I’ve recognized that struggle happening in my parent’s homeland of Syria, as I look around, I see the struggle continuing in my own country, the United States of America,” Allouch said.

Melanie Goan, a UK associate professor of history and a Kentucky Women Suffrage Project volunteer, said she has never thought so carefully about how to cast her ballot to ensure that her wishes are registered.

“If you have been following the news lately at all, it has been impossible to miss the anxiety that Americans are feeling about voting right now. … So, this makes it a really good time to think about the history of voting,” Goan said.

Fayette District Court Judge Melissa Murphy, a 2001 graduate of the law school, paid tribute to the black women who fought in the suffrage movement but have been forgotten in the history books. At the time, many white women did not see these women as equal and thought including black women in the movement would hurt the cause.  

“I think many of us can attest that through our elementary and secondary education, there were only two names that were ever discussed when we talked about the 19th Amendment. We talked about Susan B. Anthony and we talked about Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” Murphy said.

Murphy said she later learned about the numerous black women – including Mary Virginia Cook Parrish of Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Mary Ellen Britton of Lexington, Kentucky – who played a part in the suffrage movement “and I realized how much I owe a debt of gratitude to the work that they continue to do.”

For many black women, the fight was about the survival of their communities – about life or death, Murphy said. “For black women, the fight for the right to vote meant voting for a country that would address issues surrounding job training, address issues around equal pay and educational opportunities for their communities. For black women, the fight for the right to vote meant that they would elect representatives and leaders and local officials who would not condone and would not support the killing and lynching of their fathers and their brothers and their husbands.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally made voting an “unhindered and unfettered reality for all,” said Murphy, who noted that she has the right to vote and to run for office because of these black women.

“This work is unfinished,” Murphy said. “There are still far too many people who have been disenfranchised and counted out of our voting process. Let us who stand because of the voices of these women not forget that, without their work, our voices would be silenced, too.”

By Shawntaye Hopkins
Jan. 5, 2021