The 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified 100 years ago. Today, as America reflects on the legacy of voter suppression and the exclusion of Black, Indigenous, Women of Color from historic legislation, Associate Professor of History Laura Free retraces the stories of women’s suffrage from the 1800s to the present as the host of Humanities New York’s podcast “Amended.” In the podcast, which launched on Wednesday, Aug. 26, Free offers insight into the diverse and complex history of women’s equality.
“History is always being amended as we try to assess how our past got us to where we are, but also as we assess our past in light of our present values,” Free says. “Also to say, ‘Hey, what didn’t past historians get right? What do we need to fix here?’ The typical suffrage narrative is one of triumph, ending in the 19th Amendment. And it centers white women only. But the movement for women’s equality was so much more diverse. And the 19th Amendment left so many women disenfranchised. A lot of historians right now are working to update that narrative to reflect the historic evidence.”
Free is a board member for Humanities New York, the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her first taste of podcast production occurred last summer, when she joined producer Reva Goldberg in Seneca Falls, N.Y. to record a sample interview at the Women’s Rights National Park. As the pair walked around the site of the first Women’s Rights Convention, Free discussed Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s racism, the subject of much of Free’s previous scholarship. While Free talked, Goldberg recorded not only the discussion, but sounds to enhance the story: doors opening, footsteps on gravel, water falling over the monument to the Declaration of Sentiments monument.
“One of the richest parts of doing this project is that, as a historian I’m really grounded in documents and analysis and crafting arguments about the past and using evidence to support those arguments,” Free says. “Audio production, podcasting, is all about the story. ‘Where is the dramatic moment? How do we convey that with sound and with words? How can we show the ways people navigate the challenges they faced in their lives and their activism?’ It’s been exciting to think about, in the future, how do I revise my scholarship to be more story grounded?”
While Seneca Falls, N.Y., is foregrounded in the first episode of the series, as Free interviews historians Lisa Tetrault and Judith Wellman about the city’s storied history as the “birthplace of the women’s rights movement,” the podcast quickly departs to other locations to ask “who else is involved and how else do people advocate for women’s equality,” Free says.
The second episode, to be released on Sept. 2, features an interview with historian Martha S. Jones in which Free asks, “Where would you start telling the story of Black women’s involvement with women’s rights and activism?” Jones invites listeners to start with the history of enslaved women, and identifies figures such as Charity Castle, Celia and Harriet Jacobs.
“Jones makes a powerful claim that enslaved women bring the issue of bodily autonomy to the women’s rights agenda for all American women,” Free says.
Other guests of the podcast include preeminent scholars and researchers Sharia Benn, Bettye Collier-Thomas, Cathleen Cahill and Annaliese Orleck.
Following the Aug. 26 launch, new episodes will be released in succession on Wednesday’s through Sept. 9. The podcast will take a brief hiatus as they continue filming episodes. During their break, Amended will share episodes of partner podcasts that delve deeper into adjacent topics. Listeners can find “Amended” on Spotify, Stitcher, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms.
Amended is supported by Humanities New York, Carnegie Corporation, the Baird Foundations and other individual donors, including: Hobart and William Smith Colleges and Susan R. Strauss ’64. Strauss is an advocate for social change and social justice. She previously worked for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and founded the organization Federal Employees for Peace, before teaching at Montgomery Community College. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from SUNY Binghamton. In 2019, Strauss was awarded the Alumna Achievement Award.