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Q&A: Former Madeira School Principal's Book on Equality Struggle

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American women have achieved greater autonomy since suffragists began agitating for the right to vote in the mid-1800s, but many hurdles remain, says author Elizabeth Griffiths. I’m here.

Griffiths, who headed the all-girls private Madeira School in McLean from 1988 to 2010, recently published a book that shows how far women have come and what obstacles remain.

“Formidable: The Fight for Women and Equality in America, 1920-2020” not only dates back to that century, but from the colonial era to the early Biden administration. The book also details parallel histories of the civil rights movement and is replete with statistics on women’s advances, and sometimes setbacks, in the professional and political spheres.

A Chevy Chase resident, Griffith teaches women’s history courses through Smithsonian Associates and the Politics & Prose bookstore. Griffith previously authored her In Her Own Right: The Life of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and in this edited conversation she talked about her latest book.

How was life after Madeira?

I loved working with Madeira. It was the best job anyone could have, especially when you get to enjoy it in a great environment with quirky young people and great faculty. But I am happy to be back as a historian. Teaching, writing and thinking about history is my passion in life.

What sparked your interest in history?

My mother was a middle school social studies teacher. She was one of the most curious people I know. She told me many stories about history. . . I really think part of it comes down to basic patriotism. I love this country and think it would be a problem as a democracy if we didn’t have a good understanding of our history, our past and how our government was meant to work.

why did you write that book?

The title “Formidable” had a lot to do with the centenary of the 19th Amendment and women gaining the right to vote. Much has been written about the long struggle for suffrage. I wanted to know what happened next.

Did women vote? Did they run for office? Were they able to pass laws? Were they effective? The short answer is no. White women were less successful, and neither were black women, because ongoing discrimination was not resolved until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.

What surprised you the most when looking into this book?

What surprised me was my humility, perhaps as a Ph.D. In American History, I’ve been teaching American history for 40 years and still have a lot to say, especially about the death of racism, the role of black women in changing the country for the better, how dangerous it was for them. I am learning

Is the women’s movement too big to accommodate everyone?

I think you need a big tent because the women themselves are so diverse. Women differ not only in obvious respects such as race, geography, ethnicity, religion and class, but also whether they are married or have children. The women are a very diverse cohort. It’s dangerous to generalize.

How do these different feminist cohorts differ in purpose?

White female change agents focused primarily on political goals. They wanted to vote, they wanted to change laws, they wanted to have the same rights as white men. Black women had a much broader agenda.

Primarily, it has been to protect communities from racial violence, first from lynchings and now from police shootings, from the 1920s to today. Most black women would say the women’s movement needs to include unemployment, educational inequalities, food shortages, rent discrimination, and other issues that really concern how disadvantaged communities progress.

What are the key points of this book?

The first is how important it is to get involved in politics, register to vote, and do whatever you can to advance your agenda through the political system. Too many people have been jailed, beaten, and lost their lives for our right to vote. I hope this book will inspire people to take their citizenship responsibilities seriously.

Any other key points?

It is the duty of the white population, the majority of our population, to learn more about our nation’s African-American history. We need to educate ourselves, not just about black people, but about everyone we may not know very well. may make assumptions that are not

Are you planning to update your book on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade?

A paperback book will be published at the beginning of the year, so I just asked you to revise the epilogue. . . As a historian, we understand that this arc of history is a roller coaster ride. There have been good peaks in American history when we’re all dancing proud of ourselves, and there are times when it feels like we’re going backwards. I have.

How far have women progressed in the workplace?

Women have made so many visible strides. We are in many positions that no one ever dreamed of having a woman, from airplane pilots to coal miners to CEOs to surgeons. But it’s still not enough. . . we are not many in traditional roles. Women make up 98% of her kindergarten teachers and 3% of plumbers. So how we’ve progressed is very uneven.

What is the next frontier for the women’s movement?

Sadly I think we are going back to zero on some of these issues. In my view, the right to control the most intimate choices of having or not having children is an essential right. That right has now been removed and other similar rights related to individual autonomy are threatened by this conservative court. If you don’t have one, I think you’ll have to start over.

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