Voices of the Strong

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, March 11, 2020

History Alive brings the women’s suffrage movement to life

A historical reenactment group from Lanesboro gave Austin High School students a window into the early struggles of women trying to get their voices heard during the Suffrage Movement.

The school hosted History Alive Tuesday for its annual Women’s History Month assembly in Knowlton Auditorium sponsored by the Austin branch of the American Association of University Women.

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The cast of four portrayed women who played a strong role in the Minnesota suffrage movement and delivered a message of struggle and hardship to earn women a chance to be counted in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

“AAUW has sponsored this because we feel it’s so important,” said AAUW member Sue Grove as she spoke to the assembly. “You don’t have to think about wearing dresses to schools and for boys, this helped you too. There were very rigid dress codes.”

“There are people even now who are trying to chip away the rights you’ve earned,” she added.

All four actors told the personal struggles of the women they were portraying and included Jane Peck as Nannie Jaeger, Kay Wold as Clara Ueland, Val Tindall as Emily Bright and Michelle Rowley as Bertha Moller.

The foursome entered the auditorium with members of the AHS choir, complete with banners and signs proclaiming they would not sit idle. It was meant to reflect a women’s suffrage rally from the 1920s.

Peck said afterwards that putting on shows like this is a way to get students engaged not only with the past but with the issues of the day as well.

“It’s about the history. Kids love it, they remember,” Peck said. “If you can affect emotions you get a stronger memory of history.”

History Alive started a year and a half ago in Lanesboro and involves plays reflecting the history of the town and southeastern Minnesota. This play of women’s suffrage was born of that effort.

It’s an important tool to carry important messages from the past including the women’s suffrage movement, Peck said.

“I want them to know how hard women worked so these women (today) could vote,” Peck said, who also urged the students who are turning 18 to get out and vote.

The impact of the play’s subject had an effect on the students who often cheered, jeered and applauded when prompted by the players.

Afterward, Hillary Gonzalez Marcial said the play and the message, as well as school projects highlighting Women’s History Month, had an effect on her.

“I think when studying history, it puts things in perspective,” Marcial said. “I think it’s important that students take away from this that there is a reason we celebrate International Women’s Month and to face challenges and always acknowledge those women.”