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103 Years of Leading the Way – “Portraits of Courage: The Story of Women’s Suffrage in Arkansas”

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  • Corey Womack
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August 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted voting rights to women across the country. While the nation celebrates its suffrage centennial, many people don’t realize Arkansas is celebrating 103 years of women’s suffrage.

With ArkansasIDEAS’ newest Arkansas History course, “Portraits of Courage: The Story of Women’s Suffrage in Arkansas,” our assignment was to tell the tale of men and women from The Natural State who fought for women’s right to vote. It was an assignment we were eager to take up! .

Creativity in the Time of COVID

This course was very important to everyone at ArkansasIDEAS and the Arkansas Division of Elementary and Secondary Education, and we overcame countless hurdles to complete it.

In the winter of 2019, our women’s suffrage course was primed to get off the ground. We filmed the majority of our expert interviews through February and early March of 2020. We traveled to universities across the state to speak with historians and professors, each of whom held a unique perspective on women’s history in Arkansas.

With five great interviews under our belts, we returned to the office ready to put together a great story.

However, 2020 had other plans.

The COVID-19 crisis that required school closures led Arkansas PBS and ArkansasIDEAS to a more urgent project: “Arkansas AMI.” Fortunately, we received approval to resume filming this summer and got our beloved course back on track.

Nothing Good Ever Comes Easy

As we began the research to present our story in a visually engaging way – we realized many of the women and men who shaped the suffrage movement in Arkansas have been all but forgotten to history. For many of the people we wanted to highlight, documents and photographs simply didn’t exist.

When we asked our experts for details concerning these Natural State suffragists, they were slow to give us details on research that simply didn’t exist.

Creatively, we were up against history – and were beginning to feel it.

Little did we know, all we had to do was look to heroines of our story for a little inspiration.

History Repeats Itself

Through our research, we learned about women like Lizzie Dorman Fyler and Clara McDiarmid, who organized suffrage associations in Arkansas …

… and women like Catherine Cunningham, whose local publication influenced state legislators.

What these women had in common was a passion for equal voting rights and tenacity that lived on despite their untimely deaths. These women never gave up.

It seems our course wasn’t the only Arkansas suffrage effort that was met with countless false starts.

But much like the suffragists in this course, we worked to meet each of our hurdles with determination and creativity.

The result of this hard work? “Portraits of Courage: The Story of Women’s Suffrage in Arkansas.”

And, much like the hard work of the Natural State suffragists over 100 years ago, we hope our efforts will make Arkansas a better home for both women and men across the state.