From the World War I Centennial News Podcast
An Interview with Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission Executive Director Rebecca Kleefisch
In May 31st's edition of the World War I Centennial News Podcast, Episode 125, host Theo Mayer spoke with Rebecca Kleefisch about the background, mission, and plans for the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, of which she is the Executive Director. The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
Theo Mayer: Following up on our women's suffrage theme: In April of 2017, Congress passed legislation to create the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission through Bill #S847. To quote, "Ensure a suitable observance of the centennial of the passage and ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing for women's suffrage." The original bill was sponsored by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and won bipartisan support with each female member of the US Senate acting as a co-sponsor. With us today to tell us about the Commission, the mission, the plans for the centennial commemoration of the passage of the 19th Amendment, is the executive director of the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, Rebecca Kleefisch. Rebecca, welcome to the podcast.
Rebecca K.: Thanks so much, Theo. I'm glad to be here.
Theo Mayer: Rebecca, what's your personal background? How did you get appointed to the role?
Rebecca K.: Well, I'll tell you I would not be here were it not for women's rights to vote, because I held elected office, once upon a time. Well, once just a couple of months ago. I was the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, which was the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment, which was the Constitutional Amendment that gave women across America the right to vote. This holds a special place in my heart. Initially, I had been appointed to the commission by Speaker Paul Ryan and then, when it looked like I was not going to be able to do as much as I wanted to for this Commission because by that time it had become an absolute passion project for me, I dropped off the Commission and applied to be its Executive Director and I was blessed enough to have been chosen and, boy, do we have an extraordinary year and a half planned for America.
Theo Mayer: What are some of the activities and programs?
Rebecca K.: Well, we've already observed our very first centennial, Theo. That happened on May 21, which is 100 years to the day since the US House of Representatives passed the 19th Amendment. If you noticed anyone from the United States House of Representatives wearing a yellow rose on their lapel on the news that night, or perhaps in the paper the next morning, that's because the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission made sure that every member had a yellow rose in order to commemorate that special day. On that day as well, there was a vote, by unanimous consent, it passed that the house reaffirm the 19th Amendment, which was a really special moment. Then, on top of that, the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, held a very special reception in Statuary Hall to honor the suffragists of the past, but also record-breaking numbers of women holding office in the United States Congress this year. The minority leader was there and gave a wonderful speech. The speaker herself gave a wonderful speech, and it was a great honor that our chairwoman, Kay Coles James, and our vice chairwoman, former Senator Barbara Mikulski, were also there and gave speeches.
We're coming up now on our second big centennial, so watch C-SPAN from 4:00 PM to 6:00 PM on June 4th. That's when you will see the commemoration in the United States Senate, and you're going to see them wearing yellow roses on their lapels, which is the signature flower of the suffragists of yesteryear. That is also the day that you'll see the Library of Congress exhibit opening, so we have so much planned. Plans in the works with the White House, plans in the works with States across this nation, to make this an incredible commemorative year.
Theo Mayer: This is probably of great interest to our listeners because they're involved in history. How can people get involved in this centennial?
Rebecca K.: Well, Theo, thanks for asking. You can just go to our website. It's really easy to find, you're going to go to womensvote100.org, and you can click on any number of the tabs up in the little hamburger menus, but also, I would suggest just perusing it. Set some time aside because we have so many social accounts, everything from Facebook to Instagram to YouTube to Twitter, and we have so many links because we know that there are going to be five generations of Americans that will be checking us out. Literally everyone who is alive today does not have good memory of this moment in American history, because even if you are 100 years old, you were a little, teeny baby when this history happened. We want to make sure that everyone has a full understanding of the tough, the smart, the courageous women who made this happen for the women of today so that people like me could go on to hold political office, so that women could become 53% of today's electorate, Theo, so that women could make 85% of consumer household decisions, so that women could head four out of 10 American households. Were it not for these exceptional trailblazers, I don't know that any of those statistics might have developed in the way they had.
Theo Mayer: Well, I was actually going to ask you about things people should remember, but I think you just listed them out very well. Rebecca, any closing thoughts?
Rebecca K.: I'm really going to encourage you to go to womensvote100.org, and click on "Get involved." When you click on "Get involved," you're going to come to a variety of clickable tabs. One of the ones that I'd love for you to search out is the search your state tab. You're going to pick out your state and then you're going to see all the activities that have already been planned for your state, your region, your municipality, your county. The other thing I would love for you to do is come down to create history in your community and click on the Centennial Planning Toolkit. That's going to show you how you can do something special in your own community, and some things are so simple as creating a suffrage-themed float for your 4th of July parade. Independence Day is right around the corner and you can do this, or perhaps you want to click on our resolution or executive order template and suggest to your common council member, or to your mayor, that you would really like to see the centennial of women's suffrage, the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment, commemorated in your town or your city. You can just hand them something that's already right there, a template on our website, and you will have been doing something not only for your own family but also for your whole community because this is special not just to the women of the country, but everybody across America. Women's rights are American rights, and the right to vote is an incredible gift that we must not take for granted.
Theo Mayer: Rebecca, we have a question from our live audience, Frank Crone. He wanted to know if you're planning to publish a book or a magazine outlining what's going to be and what has been done for Women's Vote 100.
Rebecca K.: Well, it's funny Frank should ask that, and Theo, I promise I did not plant this question in your live audience, but we are, actually. We have a relationship with a publishing company that is going to come out with a magazine and we're really excited about it, but in addition to that, there are so many amazing authors and experts that we would love for you to check out. Once again, I'm going to push my website on you. It's womensvote100.org, and click on "Learn" because that is where you are going to find a lot of the resources. You're also going to find links to our short educational videos on our YouTube channel, they're all under two minutes, and so you can learn something fun to share with your family at the dinner table, or something quick and shareable that you can post on your own social media, or shoot along in an e-mail to your friends. You're also going to find featured partner resources with a bunch of really excellent information, stuff that you may have never uncovered. The Yellow Rose Journal, which is our blog, and you're going to find a number of our writers who are on staff, and then also some of our commissioners who are guest writers.
Theo Mayer: Rebecca, thank you so much for coming in, telling us about the Commission, the centennial and your upcoming plans.
Rebecca K.: My pleasure.
Theo Mayer: Rebecca Kleefisch is the executive director of the Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission. The website is womensvote100.org, and of course we put a link for you in the podcast notes.