Grace Julian Clarke & 2020

On Saturday, I went to the unveiling of a new historical marker. (I know, I know, but not everyone can have my thrilling rock star life.)

This nerd event was special, though.

Grace Julian Clark

Grace Julian Clarke was an author, a journalist, a clubwoman, an activist, and a force of nature. She was also my great-great-great-aunt. She was born in 1865, the daughter of the significant-but-mostly-forgotten congressman George Washington Clarke. Growing up in an abolitionist home, she was well-prepared for a career in social reform.

There isn’t time to run through her life’s work, but she was tremendously important in the women’s suffrage movement in Indiana, she wrote a regular political column, and she was an activist for peace, traveling and giving lectures in support of the League of Nations. President Woodrow Wilson appointed her the head of the women’s division of the Federal Employment Bureau in Indianapolis.

Grace Julian Clark

So this year, in honor of the centennial for women’s enfranchisement, a historical marker was unveiled at the Irvington house where she lived. (Yes, Irvington. Seriously, everything went down in that neighborhood.)

We went, due to both historical significance and family connection, and gathered loosely (and masked) with about sixty others to listen to some recognition for Grace and to reveal the new marker. We were just barely into the program when someone near the back called out, “NBC just called it for Biden.”

Indiana is a deeply red state, but the kind of people who celebrate the enfranchisement of women tend to sit not so far to the right. A tangible thrill rippled through the group, physically spaced as we were. I did not wholly trust to the report — I didn’t know what percentage of the tally was in when NBC made the judgment — but I could feel the shift in the air.

We were celebrating women finally getting the vote, on the day that a woman had become vice president-elect.

It only took a hundred years.

We were keenly aware of what had happened, of the joyful coincidence of timing we’d been granted. There were a lot of emotions. And I think Grace Julian Clarke, a fierce supporter of civil rights, enfranchisement, world peace, and education, would have been thrilled.

It took more than half a century from when the first federal suffrage amendment was introduced in 1868 until the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. It took a century more for a woman to be elected on a presidential ticket, even in a secondary position — even while a major party featured a national convention speaker who advocates stripping the vote from women and encouraged a base happy to render legal enfranchisement meaningless through domestic coercion. Let’s not take our rights for granted, but protect them, and make sure that all who are entitled to them share them. I want my badass great-great-great-aunt to be proud of me.

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  1. That’s so super cool, Laura, on so many levels! Thanks for sharing this!

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