‘Ahead of the Curve’

The 19th Amendment was ratified 100 years ago, but many Washington women were granted the right to vote 10 years earlier. Learn about Washington women who have been pushing the envelope — locally, nationally, and globally — for more than a century at Legacy Washington’s exhibit, Ahead of the Curve.

Now that we’ve turned the page on another calendar year, you’ve likely heard buzz about the Women’s Suffrage Centennial. One hundred years ago, on Aug. 26, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving 26 million American women access to voting. Many women remained disenfranchised — in many states, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and African Americans were barred from voting for decades more — but you can expect to see centennial celebrations of that first milestone across the state and country throughout the year. 

Washington state’s own suffragist centennial, however, was celebrated a decade ago. The Evergreen State ratified a law allowing women — those who were citizens and English speakers — to vote on Nov. 8, 1910. That’s why the Secretary of State’s Legacy Washington exhibit for 2020 is titled Ahead of the Curve and highlights the stories of 21 local women — both historical and contemporary — and how their pioneering spirits have pushed the needle for women in Washington and beyond. 

“We were the fifth state to grant women the right to vote,” said Laura Mott, director of development for the Office of the Secretary of State. “With this exhibit, the idea was to look at different areas in which Washington women have been ahead of the curve.” 

Categories include education, medicine and science, law and justice, work and wages, mountain climbing, broadcast journalism, tech and philanthropy, environmentalism, and transportation. Visitors may recognize some of those who are being showcased — Melinda Gates, Fawn Sharp, Christine Gregoire — while others may be entirely new faces. Each of their stories as innovators in their respective fields is worth knowing and can be found online and at the exhibit. 

A team of five works to create the annual Legacy Washington exhibits each year, which include interviews with subjects and their family members to compile detailed stories. Team members also work closely with the Washington State Archives in the Washington State Library to borrow primary sources for research and to display as part of the exhibit. On view at the exhibit is a voting register from 1883 to 1885 — a time period when women in Washington Territory were temporarily granted the right to vote until it was revoked in 1887.

“We wanted to show that there were all these women who voted in 1883 — that’s part of the story of this long-winded process of trying to get women the right to vote,” Mott said, emphasizing that, while the exhibit is not entirely about voting, those pieces are an important part of the story. 

The Ahead of the Curve exhibit is free for visitors to attend and is made possible by private funding. The exhibit opened in September 2019 and will remain on the walls of the Secretary of State office through Fall 2020, after which time it will travel across the state to anyone who wants to host it, free of charge. 

“A museum in Washington could have this exhibit come to them and then pull from their own collections to add important women from their community to it,” said Amber Raney, marketing and design specialist at Legacy Washington. “They’ll be able to share that in addition to what we’ve done here and bring more women into the story.” 

The exhibit also reaches beyond the visitors at the Capitol Building — which Mott said ranges from 40,000 to 50,000 people a year — and into local classrooms. 

“We’re partnering with teachers from all over the state to integrate (pieces from the exhibit) into their classrooms,” Mott said. “We want to move the ball in terms of kids learning about Washington state history.” 

Check out the exhibit by visiting the Secretary of State office in the Capitol Building, and read more about local trailblazing women at sos.wa.gov/legacy.

A Few Notable Women Featured in Ahead of the Curve

Elsie Parrish, a Wenatchee chambermaid in the 1930s, won a 1937 Supreme Court case that cleared a legal path for minimum wage and Social Security.

Trish Millines Dziko retired from Microsoft at 39 to found the Technology Access Foundation in 1996 to teach computer skills to minority children in Puget Sound school districts. 

Fawn Sharp is the five-term president of the Quinault Indian Nation and is one of the people at the political helm fighting against global warming and protecting native communities in the process.

Other Suffrage Centennial Celebrations 

Tacoma Historical Society presents Her Story: Tacoma’s Women of Destiny, highlighting the passing of the 19th Amendment and celebrating 75 women currently making history or whose roles in making history have been overlooked.

An exhibit at Cowlitz County Historical Museum immortalizes local suffragists and displays relevant artifacts.

The Olympia Historical Society and Bigelow House Museum offer materials in print and online that establish the role of local places and people in the women’s suffrage movement. 

For more activities celebrating the national suffrage centennial go to suffrage100wa.com. 

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