More than 40 University of Michigan students, faculty and residents of Ann Arbor gathered in the Eldersveld Room of Haven Hall on Monday afternoon to listen to a panel on the 19th Amendment’s legacy and its current implications. The panel was a part of the #UMSuffrage2020 speaker series in honor of the amendment’s 100th anniversary.
Christina Wolbrecht, a professor of political science at Notre Dame University and director of the Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy, spoke about common views among female voters over the past century. Wolbrecht especially focused on the connection between the voting choices of husbands and their wives since the time of the amendment.
According to Wolbrecht, while the voting patterns of husbands and wives often imitate each other, the voting actions of the husband may not directly impact the political opinions of his wife. Her research has found it is likely a woman’s tendency to speak about politics frequently within her family and community causes her opinions to be shaped by others, but it is not necessarily an intentional action on behalf of her husband or her community.
“Is it possible that men were telling their wives how to vote, and some of them were voting on that basis?” Wolbrecht said. “Absolutely. It’s probably even likely. We just don’t have a very good sense within this data about how likely that was.” Corrine McConnaughy, an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, continued with her research on the number of women’s groups who were politically active before the 19th Amendment. She drew examples from history, such as a church sewing group becoming politically active by working towards goals such as purchasing and building a city graveyard.
According to McConnaughy, the question of why political organizations would want to have women working for them was answered by two words: labor and money. She said women were extremely interested in advancing their communities and were willing to work hard for it. Additionally, McConnaughy said women often helped fundraise through organizing.
“Women doing politics might look different than men doing politics but that doesn’t need to translate into women doing women’s politics.” McConnaughy said.
Before the meeting closed, Mara Cecilia Ostfeld, an assistant professor of political science at the University, presented the findings of her project in progress focusing on the effect of family socialization on voting habits and opinions. Her research is currently focused on why many women vote against policies that benefit women as a whole.
Ostfeld said her research shows that regardless of whether one believes in an issue, people still tend to bend to what they anticipate would evoke the best response from their family members.
“Perceiving your family would stigmatize you for supporting these issues is a really strong predictor of your own likelihood of supporting these issues,” Ostfeld said.
Rackham student Zoe Walker said she was especially interested in hearing from the researchers and the extent to which topics regarding women in politics are studied.
“There’s a lot of diversity in the study of women and politics,” Walker said. “There are historical perspectives, New Age perspectives, and they’re shaping the ways women organize and the way in which women think and behave politically. I think it’s really important to think about how complicated and interesting the study of women is.”
Contributor Kara Warnke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org