Cook: 19th Amendment Centennial Commemorations in Virtual Space

In 2019, pre-pandemic, NC NOW President Gailya Paliga asked NC chapters to develop projects to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. In response, chapters across the state began brainstorming ways to do it, with several undertaking planning for conference-type events set for the following summer. Who knew what was to follow?

As Americans were looking forward to putting 2019 behind us and moving into the “Roaring Twenties,” cold winds were brewing across the Pacific Ocean. Within a few months, the coronavirus had changed everything. Not to be dismayed, North Carolina’s NOW chapters did not cancel their plans. Instead we began to brainstorm how to keep our projects alive. Zoom—previously associated with fast cars—emerged to rescue willing participants. With Zoom, we were discovering a more advanced way of seeing each other as we continued meeting together.

One chapter after another made the difficult decision to switch their events from actual to virtual. This meant everyone was facing a very steep and quick learning curve. Yet, hard work and dedication proved virtual events could be worthwhile and often better attended than in-person events that were more time-consuming and expensive due to food, travel and sometimes hotel costs.

Some of the major events sponsored or co-sponsored by NC NOW chapters and members include the following:

Chapel Hill/Durham NOW Chapters: Chapel Hill President Gerrie Richards, Durham NOW President Esther Barkley and their chapters worked together on their project for a year. Entitled, “She Changed the World,” this was planned as a traveling exhibit. According to Esther, “Each chapter chose five local women who had contributed to the betterment of our communities.” Gerrie coordinated the design and production and provided commentary for each of 10 framed posters—one of each honoree–and two framed posters giving further information. Gerrie explained, “On each honoree’s poster we put a photograph of the honoree and a description of her contributions.” Each poster also asked,”How will you change the world?” Two more posters explained the purpose of the exhibit and listed ways for viewers to contribute to change.

The two chapters held an opening reception for the exhibit at the Chapel Hill Library on Saturday, February 29th, which attracted 100 people between invitees and library traffic. Most of the honorees attended and spoke briefly to the group. The plan was to move the exhibit to Durham and then other venues. However, the pandemic has put this part on hold. Carrboro created an on-line tour of the exhibit that is still available on their website. The chapters are seeking locations to showcase their exhibit over the coming year.

Reception around 1pm. Photo Credit: Gailya Paliga

Raleigh/Durham NOW Chapters: Raleigh NOW President Gailya Paliga and Durham NOW member Mandy Carter joined in the year-long planning of “When Women Gather: Uniting for Positive Change,” which was organized and conducted by a coalition with multiple co-sponsors, including Raleigh and Durham NOW. Chapel Hill NOW and Triad NOW were also part of early large group meetings with the Women Vote Centennial group.

Initially planned as a one day conference at Bennett College in Greensboro, the conference was moved to Zoom. It was held on Saturday, July 25, 2020, from 9:30 a.m. until noon. The keynote speaker was professor and author Lisa Tetrault. Mandy Carter welcomed everyone. There was a panel moderated by Donna Chavis, which included Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson, Cas Shearin, and Mary Williams-Stover. Its focus was an honest historical look at the history of racism in suffrage as women and allies got together in commemoration of the 19th Amendment. The event also included small group discussions, and exceptional videos highlighting the fight for the vote and women’s marches in NC. Several NOW members were facilitators in the small group discussion rooms.

Most if not all attendees learned something here! Member Kathe Rauch wrote about the experience at Rauch: U.S. Constitution does not guarantee all citizens the right to vote. Surprised?

Almost 500 people registered for the event on Zoom, which was the maximum it could fit. Final attendance numbers were 323 people via Zoom and another 362 people viewing via Facebook Live. An experienced technical staff helped make it a very interesting and successful virtual conference.

Here were presenting sponsors of the When Women Gather event.

Fayetteville NOW Chapter: Fayetteville NOW held their first virtual event, “Women’s Equality Day Celebration: Women of Cumberland,” on August 26, 2020, at 6:30 p.m. The keynote speaker was the Honorable Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, candidate for Congress in the 8th Congressional District. Roberta Waddle, Fayetteville NOW’s Past President explained, “The celebration included reminiscing about the women who came before us paving the way for women of today and how the women of today can continue that work for the women of the future.” Long-time Fayetteville movers and shakers honored included Lura Tally, the recently-deceased Mary McAllister, Beth Dail Finch, Virginia Oliver and current women like Margaret Dixon, Cheri L. Beasley and Pat Timmons-Goodson. Fayetteville NOW posted graphics describing 10 women they were honoring as important women of Cumberland before and after the event.

Women of Cumberland: Chief Justice Cheri L. Beasley. Writeup by Cynthia Gorwitz Mixon

Nancy Cook wrote an article summarizing Fayetteville NOW’s WED event at Cook: Fayetteville NOW Honors Local Women for Women’s Equality Day.

Charlotte NOW Chapter: Charlotte NOW is a co-sponsor of a series of virtual events presented by the Coalition for Pay Equity, according to Charlotte NOW President Melba Evans. She adds, “the coalition is a group of organizations from the Charlotte area that have committed to making equity in wage earning a reality for women.” The first event in the series was “Pay Equity: How Do We Get There.” This event was held on Women’s Equality Day, August 26, 2020, from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. Watch the first Pay Equity Symposium here.

Other Commemorations: In addition to these commemorations, NOW chapters have recognized the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment in many ways throughout the year and will continue to do so. We will take what we have learned and experienced to a whole, new level as we continue to work for voting rights for women. The observances may have started out in tried and true fashion, but North Carolina NOW members did not stop in dismay when the coronavirus shut everything down. Instead, we found new ways to celebrate and commemorate the work of the women who have gone before us and to contemplate what we can do now and as we go forward. Virtual or not, we will find a way to keep moving and voting.


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