Suffrage in Rhode Island: A Lippitt Family Perspective
Women Marching in Suffrage Parade, Washington, DC. Courtesy of the National Archives. National Archives Identifier 24520426
2020 is the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the federal constitution, the 19th Amendment, which stated a person’s right to vote can’t be denied because of sex. This milestone is part of a long struggle to expand voting rights in the United States and in Rhode Island. In commemoration, the Lippitt House Museum and the students in "Shrine, House, or Home: Rethinking the Historic House Museum," a course in Brown University's American Studies department and the John Nicholas Brown Center for Public Humanities and Cultural Heritage, have collaborated to examine the history of suffrage rights in Rhode Island, highlighting the involvement of the Lippitt family.
The story of women’s suffrage in America tends to emphasize large metropolitan areas like Washington, DC and New York, overshadowing the role played by individual states in gathering support for eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment. The typical narrative also neglects the importance of struggles for voting rights by other groups of people. At different times, women, African Americans, and immigrants worked together and in opposition to advance their causes. Finally, the story is not complete without including the significant numbers of women, some from the Lippitt family, who opposed the 19th Amendment for a variety of social, economic, and political reasons.
Despite the efforts so many undertook to gain suffrage, today less than half of young Americans vote, even in presidential elections. Public trust in government is at less than 20%, and voter participation has reached its lowest point since 1996, with only 55% of voting-age citizens casting ballots in the 2016 presidential election. Disenfranchisement continues to affect Americans today, particularly in immigrant and African American communities. Without a stronger collective understanding of the history of government and suffrage rights, voter apathy will continue to undermine American democracy. With this project we hope to contribute to greater civic literacy by providing an opportunity for people to become more knowledgeable and better engaged citizens.