By Erin Huggins
Tayleranne Gillespie, a senior political science major at Western Oregon University, turned in her first presidential ballot during the November 2012 election. In the run-up to the final Electoral College count on Nov. 6, when President Barak Obama was re-elected for a second term, tensions were running high across the nation regarding the next four years.
Despite the drama, Gillespie was simply excited to be able to vote. After all, 2012 marked the centennial celebration for women’s voting rights in Oregon. “The fact that it’s right now…2012” made history come alive for Gillespie during her debut voting experience. She was also excited to see a record number of women elected to the Senate—starting January 2013, 20 of 100 seats will be filled by women.
Century of Action, a project led by the Oregon Women’s History Consortium (OWHC), seeks to highlight the historical 100 years between 1912 and 2012, and promote continuing support for women’s history. Dr. Kimberly Jensen, WOU history professor and OWHC vice president, has worked to inform her students, including Gillespie, about Century of Action and find ways for them to get involved.
“Century of Action helps students connect with the past by helping them develop knowledge of the 42-year struggle to obtain the 1912 ballot measure and to help them understand that it took grassroots coalition building and crossing lines of race, ethnicity and class for success…We need to know this history to understand that voting and citizenship have not always been rights for everyone and they are vital elements of our quest for full equality and social justice today and in the future. They empower us to make our communities better for everyone,” said
Kimberly Jensen, history professor.
In fact, Gillespie was first alerted to the historical significance of this year’s vote through Jensen’s honors class, Oregon Woman
Suffrage, in winter 2011. Class participants were assigned a topic related to woman suffrage and had to transcribe old newspaper articles, so the public could read them online.“It’s cool to learn about it, to learn about women in Oregon who worked so hard so we could vote and how important it is to vote—how people worked for years for us to be able to do this today.”
From January through summer 2012, Gillespie also interned for Century of Action, concentrating on an outreach program featuring the iconic “Vote for Women” sash, symbol of the woman suffrage movement in the early 20th century.
Gillespie’s goal was to give the sashes another go-around in 2012, connecting history with modern technology. Beginning at
Western, she contacted universities around Oregon—professors and students—encouraging people to snap photos of themselves and friends wearing the sash, then to submit the photos for Century of Action’s various social media outlets: Flicker, Facebook and Twitter.
“A lot of women weren’t alive to see [woman suffrage] come to fruition. A lot of people don’t know about it and don’t appreciate that it was a hard battle,” Gillespie said. Her work honors the persistence of early activists in Oregon, who brought woman suffrage to the ballot six times before it passed—eight years prior to the rest of the country.
“Look at the history of the fight,” she said. “Their legacy is important.”
Alumna Sarah Hardy ’11 (B.A. history) presented “Suffrage and Temperance: Significant Women’s
Movements in Oregon’s Prohibition Era” at the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem on Aug. 2, 2012. Part of the History Pub at the Mill series, Hardy’s talk overviewed the impact of the woman suffrage movement and the temperance movement (two unique women’s movements in Oregon) during the prohibition era. Hardy, who wrote her senior thesis on Oregon women involved in the temperance movement during World War I and also participated in Dr. Jensen’s winter 2011 Oregon Woman Suffrage class, was recommended by Jensen for the speaking engagement.
“I think it’s important for people to know the history of women and to study the involvement of women in early 20th century in particular because that’s when they really began to band together and get involved in politics and social reform movements,” Hardy said. “From studying history, we can understand the changes that we see today.”
Hardy is a Master of Library Science candidate at Emporia State University and works at the University of Western States library in Portland.