NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA–This year we celebrate the 100th year anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment. 2020 also celebrates the 50th year anniversary of Louisiana’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a virtual tour that speaks to legacy of New Orleans women’s voter rights.
Madeline Drace is the co-curator of the exhibition and says, “We have the story of St. Anna’s Asylum in 1878, which is thought of as the pivotal moment where woman’s suffrage starts in New Orleans.”
The account of St. Annas’s Asylum covers a woman who is leaving 1,000 dollars in a will. The all female board of the asylum bares witness to her signing the will. The state of Louisiana held that women could not be proper witnesses to the signing of legal documents. The story caught the attention of woman’s suffrage movement supporter, Caroline Merrick and it also led to the state’s first woman’s suffrage organization.
Another story told during the exhibition is about Katie Wickham, who owned a beauty school on Oretha Castle Haley. Libby Neidenbach is also the exhibition co-curator and says, –“She started her own group. It was called the Metropolitan Woman’s Voters League. They canvassed houses to figure who was registered to vote and ran voter education workshops.”
Wickham was president of the National Beauty Culturalist League, a group of cosmetologists and beauticians. In 1957 the NBCL’s national convention was in New Orleans. Wickham invited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at the event; he accepts the invitation. Wickham keeps a relationship with Dr. King and she eventually becomes the first woman officer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Both Libby and Neidenbach and Madeline Drace say the message is meant to inspire people vote by taking a look at the many events that enabled the full population the opportunity to vote.
“We were reading speeches and arguments of women who helped shape schools and businesses and could not cast votes that affected schools and businesses. These women saw something that was lacking in the mythos of the American dream.”