Over 100 years ago, an MU chemistry major chained herself to the White House gates.
She wanted President Woodrow Wilson’s attention.
Hazel Hunkins wore her MU sash and stood as one of the Silent Sentinels with Alice Paul, leader of the National Woman’s Party, leading the way. Her silence was a part of the protest in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Hunkins stayed there until police officers came to take her and the other protesters to jail, where they would serve a 15-day sentence.
In 2019, it isn’t surprising that women in the U.S. have the right to vote. In reality, though, the fight for women’s suffrage took decades to win. Congress first took up the matter of a constitutional amendment in 1878, and it wasn’t until August 1920 that the majority of states had ratified it, granting white women the right to vote.
The new “She Got the Vote” exhibit at the Boone County History and Culture Center, which will run until September 2020, commemorates the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s approval Aug. 26, 1920. It also showcases stories like Hunkins’ that illustrate how difficult it was to change peoples’ minds in the early 1900s.
“Most people don’t know that it took over 70 years just to decrease the shock value of saying ‘Women deserve the right to vote,’” Marilyn McLeod, president of the League of Women Voters of Columbia-Boone County, said.
The exhibit features photos, dresses, artifacts and more from the early 1900s, where women both in Columbia and across the U.S. protested for their right to vote. Three white dresses stand in the center of the exhibit, adorned with bright gold sashes. They help demonstrate, according to the exhibit, the meaning of the women’s suffrage flag: purple to convey “loyalty, constancy to purpose and unswerving steadfastness to a cause,” gold to represent “light and life and the torch that guides our purpose,” and white, “the emblem of purity that symbolizes the quality of our purpose.”
A photo of Hunkins in her sash, standing along with other suffragists in front of the White House, rests on a tiny stand inside a glass case with text explaining her legacy.
The League of Women Voters lent several pieces for the exhibit, such as the suffrage flag and photos. The flag is a copy of the one Paul sewed a star onto each time a state ratified the amendment. She sewed 36 stars in all.
The exhibit also features an item on loan from the State Historical Society of Missouri, the pen used by then-Missouri Gov. Frederick D. Gardner to sign the Presidential Suffrage Bill in 1919, according to a media release given out by the History and Culture Center. Missouri was the 11th state to ratify the amendment. Gardner’s pen remains stained by ink from the well he dipped his pen into.
The exhibit is a collaboration between the Boone County Historical Society and The League of Women Voters, Chris Campbell, executive director of the society, said. Members of both organizations enjoyed working together to make the exhibit possible.
The purpose is to educate people on this period of history, which not many people know the details of, McLeod said.
The exhibit also highlights local groups’ activism, along with the nationally recognized groups. The Columbia Equal Suffrage League was one such group. Its first president, R. H. Jesse, is a former president of the University of Missouri.
Campbell, in the news release, highlighted the efforts made by local women to fight for the cause. There was Helen McNabb (then Helen Guthrie Miller), who presented a program on universal suffrage during the inaugural meeting of the group Nov. 16, 1912. Miller was elected chair of the executive board, and Luella Wilcox St. Clair, former president of Christian College — now Columbia College — was elected vice president.
The exhibit is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sundays. Admission is free. The society museum is at 3801 Ponderosa St.