How the National Park Foundation Is Highlighting Women’s History

The organization will allocate $460,000 toward projects at 23 parks across the country

Visitor at Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
A visitor at Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument in Washington, D.C. National Park Service / Victoria Stauffenberg

Earlier this month, the National Park Foundation (NPF) announced plans to dedicate grants totaling $460,000 toward its Women in Parks initiative, which launched in June 2019 to support projects that “unearth, preserve and highlight women’s stories tied to national parks across the country.”

The campaign is part of the charitable organization’s celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which extended the franchise to (mostly white) women on a federal level upon its August 18, 1920, ratification.

Announced in response to an NPF survey suggesting two-thirds of 1,000 adults polled “wish they were taught more about women in U.S. history,” Women in Parks’ inaugural slate of programming centers on 23 projects that seek to elevate women’s stories through visual media, podcasts, exhibitions and park tours. By highlighting sites associated with a diverse group of women, NPF will render these individuals’ accomplishments “more visible than ever,” writes Jake Rossen for Mental Floss. (Interested parties can donate to the campaign here.)

“The National Park Service offers unique opportunities to learn about women's important contributions and how even their silent and diverse everyday lives formed the foundations of America,” says National Park Service Chief Historian Turkiya Lowe in a statement.

She adds, “Parks are spaces to ask complex questions about the history of the United States”—like addressing the complicated timeline of women’s suffrage after 1920.

Among the projects listed on the initiative’s website are an exhibit on the life of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park in Atlanta, Georgia; bus tours led by the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park; programming on women in the military at the Fort Stanwix National Monument in New York; and an outdoor exhibition on LGBTQ miner and entrepreneur Louise Grantham at Death Valley National Park.

Coretta Scott King
One of the projects honors civil rights leader Coretta Scott King, seen here in 1976. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Women in Parks will also support virtual projects. A service-wide initiative at the Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate, for instance, aims to create social media videos about contemporary women in the National Park Service. The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, meanwhile, will collaborate with PBS to produce a multiplatform video on the women who traversed the Erie Canal to reach suffrage rallies in Seneca Falls.

Other projects span both virtual and in-person programming The Cache la Poudre River National Heritage Area will use its Women in Parks grant to record Northern Arapaho women’s oral histories, as well as create educational videos and in-park programming.

In June and July, the Colorado park hosted a webinar series about Native Americans’ path to suffrage. At the time of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, Native Americans were not yet considered American citizens. The nation’s Indigenous peoples only gained citizenship in 1924, with the passage of the Snyder Act, and some states continued to deny them the right to vote until as late as 1962.

As Alicia Ault pointed out for Smithsonian magazine last year, numerous states took advantage of loopholes in the 19th Amendment to prevent people of color from voting. Poll taxes and literacy tests kept black voters out of the polls, while grandfather clauses enabled poor and illiterate white voters to skirt these requirements.

Black suffragists also faced racism within the movement, particularly from white women who argued that their right to vote took precedence over that of African American men. To ensure the 19th Amendment’s passage, leading suffragists emphasized that the legislation would mainly benefit white, not black, women.

“It is a bargain in 1919 and 1920,” historian Martha S. Jones—who previously chronicled the history of black suffragists for Smithsonian—tells NPR’s Melissa Block. “Support for women’s suffrage in exchange for giving individual states license to continue to keep black Americans from the polls. They’ve long kept black men from the polls, and now they’re going to keep black women from the polls as well.”

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