Just ahead of the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, award-winning actors Meryl Streep and Zoe Saldaña performed excerpts from historic speeches by American suffragists as part of The 19th Represents Summit.
“In this pivotal moment in history, when suffrage for so many truly remains a work in progress, let’s take a look back at the voices of women who fought for all women to participate equally in our democracy,” Saldaña said.
Streep and Saldaña quoted women who fought not just for the right to vote, but for racial justice for women, including Inez Milholland, Crystal Eastman and Sojourner Truth. Streep read from Abigail Scott Duniway’s 1879 speech at the Oregon State Women’s Suffrage Association. Saldaña read an excerpt from an 1866 speech at the 11th National Women’s Rights Convention given by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, the first Black woman to be published in the United States.
“The most important question before the country today is that of women’s suffrage,” suffragist Gertrude Foster Brown said in 1915. “It is not only votes for women but the entire question of democracy that is at stake.”
Twenty four years later, Mary McLeod Bethune — an American educator, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, womanist and civil rights activist — spoke to millions listening to the radio about what a democracy for Black and White men and women means to her.
“Perhaps the greatest battle is before us,” Bethune said. “The fight for a new America: fearless, free, united, morally rearmed in which 12 million Negroes shoulder to shoulder with their fair Americans will strive.”