Voter voices: Fire of young enthusiasm
For more than a century, the Goucher College community has been civically engaged on campus, in the community, and at the ballot box. In 1920, Goucher students, faculty, and staff used their voices to fight for a woman’s right to vote. In 2020, the Goucher community continued to advocate for all people’s right to vote while engaging with the next generation civically. These are the voices of voters one hundred years apart.
In 2020, Goucher College was awarded a National Votes for Women Trail marker on campus, honoring the students and faculty who had participated in the fight for women’s suffrage. Hannah Spiegelman ’15 researched the history of the suffrage movement at Goucher, and Goucher Magazine presents this excerpt from that project.
By Hannah Spiegelman ’15
2020 marked the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Goucher’s involvement with the suffrage movement during the early 20th century reveals a campus that was a vibrant hub of pro-suffrage activism situated in the city of Baltimore, which was immersed in the struggle for a woman’s right to vote. Mobilized by the charismatic leadership of the faculty and inspired by the dynamic women who led the suffrage movement in Baltimore, Goucher students marched, picketed, and protested on behalf of women’s suffrage, at times defying the will of the college leadership. After the turn of the century, college women became active leaders of the suffrage movement, and Goucher women were at the forefront of Baltimore’s suffrage movement.
The issue of women’s suffrage entered the halls of the Woman’s College of Baltimore only a few years after the college opened in 1888. While the students and faculty shared varying opinions on the topic, Lilian Welsh, professor of anatomy, physiology, hygiene, and physical training, encouraged debate in her classroom and provided students with the opportunity to participate in local suffrage events.
One such event was the pivotal suffrage convention of 1906. The National American Women’s Suffrage Association held its annual convention in downtown Baltimore and garnered the assistance of local suffrage leaders, including Welsh. Goucher students not only acted as ushers for the event but also had tea with Susan B. Anthony. The 1906 convention was Anthony’s last speaking engagement, at which she asked the college-aged suffragists to take up the torch from the older generation of suffragists.
The year 1916 marked a turning point in the national women’s suffrage movement. At the end of 1916, suffrage icon Inez Milholland, who had spoken at Goucher a year earlier, died suddenly. Her last public words, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty,” inspired the National Women’s Party (NWP) to begin a more militant campaign, taking their message where no other political movement had gone before, outside the White House gates. The NWP led pickets every week until women nationally received the right to vote. The women were known as the “Silent Sentinels” due to their quiet protesting.
Following the momentum of the first week, the NWP organized special picket days to gain publicity and attract women from all backgrounds and regions. The special picket days began with state days, the first of which was “Maryland Day” on January 14, 1917. After the success of Maryland Day, the NWP planned for other special days, which included College Day on February 3, 1917.
Mabel Vernon, secretary of the NWP, invited a group of Goucher suffragists to the College Day picket. The NWP was especially interested in Goucher College in order to garner the attention of two of its prominent former students, Margaret Wilson, President Woodrow Wilson’s eldest daughter, who attended from 1903 to 1905, and Jessie Wilson, his second daughter, who graduated in 1908. The NWP, according to The Baltimore Sun, “laid a neat trap to induce Miss Margaret Wilson … to join the picketing forces,” hoping that their attention and that of their father would be captured.
Before receiving an invitation, Goucher student suffrage leader Ida Glatt eagerly wrote to NWP leader Alice Paul: “If you can use any of the Goucher girls for picketing in cap and gown, they are available.” Vernon responded to Glatt: “I am very glad to know the Goucher girls are eager to help us picket. … We are depending especially on Goucher to send a large number.” Glatt wrote Vernon, “The only difficulty may be from the Administration, but as yet there has been no trouble and we hope all will go well.” Vernon wrote back, “I am delighted to know that your spirit is not daunted by slight opposition. Indeed, I suspect that it makes you all the more determined.”
Goucher President William W. Guth, on January 23, 1917, made it clear that he strongly disapproved of his students picketing with the Silent Sentinels. Despite having publicly supported suffrage in the past, Guth and other critics believed the issue of suffrage needed to be put to rest while much of the world was engulfed in war. Picketing at the White House was seen as a blatant attack on the government. The Evening Sun quoted Guth: “I speak in favor of woman suffrage on proper occasions. But as for this picketing of the White House, I will not say more than that I hold it in disfavor, that I am unalterably opposed to it.” While in Guth’s view the students’ initiatives were seen as harmless, joining an assembly of perceived militant suffragists was seen as disgraceful and offensive.
In a gesture of respect for Goucher’s president, Glatt requested that her fellow students travel to Washington as “individuals and not as college students.” She further suggested that “on account of the unpleasant publicity received by Dr. Guth and the College perhaps it would be better if the name of Goucher did not figure at all in the connection with the delegation.” In an Evening News article, Glatt affirmed “that ‘the student loyalty to Goucher is undoubted,’” but picketing for the rights of women was their priority.
A January 29 editorial article in The Sun sympathized with Guth, declaring that “if Goucher is to be considered merely a nursery for militant suffragists, it will be apt to suffer and its expanding usefulness might be greatly checked.”
On February 3, a group of Goucher students, who received financial assistance from the NWP, boarded a train for Washington to march on the suffrage picket line. The Goucher students joined 13 colleges on the picket line. The Suffragist, the NWP’s newspaper, observed, “The long line was a splendid and impressive one. … The largest number of picketers from one college were a group of about thirty undergraduates from Goucher College, Baltimore, whose fire of young enthusiasm was much appreciated at Head-quarters.”
On February 5, in response to the publicity generated by the picket, Guth gave a speech to the college in the main hall, condemning those who attended the College Day picket. In front of students, faculty, and local reporters, he declared, “This is not a time to rock the ship of state. It is with chagrin, therefore, that I speak of the spectacle before the White House gates on Saturday. When a danger as alarming as our country has ever faced was imminent, when the President was carrying a burden as great as ever was pressed upon the shoulders and soul of any ruler, a few misguided women stood ready to flaunt banners in his face and annoy him by their presence.” The leader of the Maryland Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, Mary Frick Garrett, called the Goucher suffragists “silly little girls who were tempted by the promises of notoriety.” Yet many outside of the college came to the students’ defense. A sympathetic Baltimore News article written on February 6, 1917, explained that the picketing “strengthened [the college women’s] resolve and, furthermore, would encourage others to join the movement.”
With the end of the Great War in November 1918, the issue of women’s suffrage could once again be on the nation’s political agenda. Suffrage protests and arrests continued into 1919, putting pressure on Wilson and the government. Finally, Wilson declared his support for women’s suffrage, and the House of Representatives passed the woman suffrage amendment on May 21. On June 4, the United States Senate passed the 19th Amendment, and the process of state ratification began.
The first national election in which women were able to participate occurred on November 2, 1920, and in a gesture that recognized the extraordinary nature of this election, Guth granted many Goucher students leaves of absence to return home to vote.
The full version of Hannah Spiegelman’s research project is available in Goucher College’s Special Collections and Archives.
By Tara de Souza
More than a century after Goucher students and suffragists fought for a woman’s right to vote, current Goucher students exercise their right to vote at a higher rate than the national average for colleges and universities. Issues-driven and focused on racial justice, climate change, immigrant rights, student debt, and other pressing problems related to the economy and the pandemic, Goucher students and alumnae/i are working to increase voter turnout and engagement.
Turning out young voters takes dedication, and, luckily, civic engagement is at the heart of Associate Professor of Political Science Nina Kasniunas’ work. In 2017, in honor of her commitment to increasing voting rates and helping students form the habits of active and informed citizenship, Kasniunas received the national ALL IN Challenge Champion Award for being a standout faculty member.
Knowing that peer-to-peer influence and relationships are the most meaningful in registering young people to vote and getting out the vote, Kasniunas helps provide the structure and reinforces the institutional commitment to voter engagement. At the same time, Goucher students do on-the-ground organizing.
“We want students to find their own voice, be engaged, do the work of being mobilized in their first time voting,” says Kasniunas. “If they come to voting on their own and take ownership of it, that is more likely to take hold for the rest of their life.”
The Goucher Voter Mobilization Team, a group of student volunteers, began meeting virtually at the start of the Fall 2020 semester to plan how to engage Goucher students. Due to the pandemic, traditional in-person voter engagement events on Van Meter Highway or tabling events in Mary Fisher Dining Center were not possible. Instead, they used Zoom to visit classrooms and share stories about why they wanted to help get people out to vote. Using social media, the group promoted voter engagement and hosted debate and election watch parties via Zoom. While the team faced more challenges this year, Kasniunas says students were more energized to mobilize voters and had a higher engagement with their work.
As a member of the voter mobilization team, Jibril Howard ’22 is passionate about voting. Howard is studying political science and international relations and hopes to work as a foreign policy advisor for a campaign one day. As a biracial Filipino American who grew up in the South, he was always aware of voter suppression.
“Voting is important. If it didn’t mean so much they wouldn’t always try to take away the right,” he says.
His Filipina grandmother instilled in him the importance of voting. She stressed that in the Philippines and many other countries around the world, citizens do not always have access to vote.
For Howard, having the right to choose to vote is very powerful. “Even if you choose not to participate, especially if you are from a marginalized community, the choice is not something that Americans should take for granted since millions of people around the world do not have the choice,” he says.
Kasniunas says that, typically, Goucher students are more knowledgeable and usually have a concern or issue that motivates them to become civically active. Students also engage with issues-related work throughout the Goucher Commons curriculum.
“At the heart of what we are trying to do in the CPEs [Complex Problem Exploration classes, where students collaborate on real-world problems] is to teach students the tools of engagement with an issue— you can’t be engaged without agency,” Kasniunas says.
While complete voter data for the 2020 election is not final, the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement reported that Goucher students voted at a rate of 47.9% in the 2018 midterm election, compared with the national average of 39.1%. Washington Monthly recognized Goucher as one of America’s best colleges for student voting in 2020.
Kasniunas credits other programs across campus, like Student Affairs, Black student affinity groups, and Community-Based Learning (CBL), for helping support Goucher’s student-voter registration efforts. She also recognizes the Athletic Program’s work increasing voter pledges this year, with some athletic teams reporting a 100% registration rate.
Emily Getoff ’15 is one of the engaged Goucher students who became a voter advocate after graduating college. Her first post-college job was working for digital specialists in political campaigns, which introduced her to the intersection of Democratic campaigns and technology. In 2016, she moved to New Hampshire to work on the youth vote for Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“With youth voters, you constantly have to innovate and meet them where they are at with new messaging,” says Getoff. “It takes more creativity, but it is so critical to both the outcome of the elections and in terms of giving a voice to a population.”
Getoff was introduced to community organizing through one of her political science classes, which took part in Community-Based Learning. Through CBL, she volunteered with BUILD, the Baltimore organization working to improve housing, rebuild schools and neighborhoods, and address other city issues. Getoff now volunteers for Close the Gap California to recruit women to run for state legislative seats.
“I am trying to help empower younger women to create more space for those voices,” says Getoff. “I believe a lot of this starts at a local level. When we make more space for women on a local level, we create more space for them to grow, up and down the ballot.”
One hundred years after Goucher students, faculty, and staff supported and fought for the suffragist movement, Kasniunas describes the current Goucher students’ civic engagement rate as excellent.
“Our graduates’ success is the proof,” she says. “They go and do really great work. They are doing the work that is bringing about change.”
(Photo at top): Nina Kasniunas, Jibril Howard ’22, and Emily Getoff ’15