Admittedly, I don’t “blog”. I barely know how to write for fun. Academic papers, museum text panels, or dry factual social media posts… that’s all I got. So, forgive me as I muddle through my first attempt at informality! My name is Beth and I am the Archives & Volunteer Coordinator for The Friends of Laurel Hill & West Laurel Hill Cemeteries and this is my first blog and reflective piece…
At the beginning of 2020, we envisioned a bold campaign to highlight the achievements of 100 women buried in either Laurel Hill or West Laurel Hill Cemetery using the following platforms: an onsite exhibit, tours and programs, social media, blogs, and newsletters for both cemeteries. We hoped to give each of these women the spotlight to mark the Centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote in 1920. COVID-19 did not derail this effort. We created a virtual version of the exhibit and did a virtual program of the intended tour. When all was said and done, we made the most impact through social media. This year we succeeded in recognizing a little more then the 100 women we planned on…
Who from that list are you particularly interested in? We hope it inspires you to do some research. Or you can put a name in the comment section and we will respond with a short biography or link to where we spoke about her! Here are the picks from some of the staff, of their favorite women this year… all the women below are featured in our online exhibit, click here to read more about them!
Suhee You, Development and Membership Coordinator– Dr. Sadie Alexander (West Laurel Hill)– “Without fierce women like Dr. Sadie Alexander, who fought for equal rights for women and people of color, I would not have had the opportunities that I’ve had, to get to where I am now.”
Beth Savastana, Archives & Volunteer Coordinator– Sara Yorke Stevenson (Laurel Hill)– “I feel connected to Sara Yorke Stevenson, from one female archaeologist to another! I include her on my Egyptian Symbolism tour so we can take a moment to thank her for the role she played in founding the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and as the first curator of it’s Egyptian galleries. I have loved Ancient Egypt all my life, so it touched me to learn about a woman who made significant waves in the archaeological world and here in Philadelphia. A legacy that continues to enable future generations of archaeologists dream.”
Rhonda DiMascio, Director– Katherine Wireman (Laurel Hill)– “Her story resonated with me as I have an appreciation for American illustration and am amazed at how prolific she was—her career fascinated me—I have always loved the drawings on the Saturday Evening Post and did not know that she was the artist behind them.”
Cat Aboudara, Manager of Programs & Civic Engagement – Mary Engle Pennington (Laurel Hill)– “I chose Mary Engle Pennington because she is a great example of an inductee into the Inventor’s Hall of Fame and an inspiration to future women inventors and scientists to barrel through the status quo that has limited women. She greatly contributed to science at a time when she was not even offered a degree in chemistry due to being a woman.”
I had some help this year in creating content for some of the women on the list: volunteer Jen Lynch and my colleagues Rachel, and Mackenzie. But the most thanks needs to be given to my colleague and mentor, Carol Yaster. Carol has been involved with research at Laurel Hill Cemetery for over a decade. She is on the Board of Directors, works in the office on the weekends, and is a tour guide. She single-handedly spent over 1000 hours researching the women on the list for Laurel Hill Cemetery, creating dozens and dozens of biographies. I relied heavily on these biographies in creating social media content for this campaign. The legacies of these women, which were uncovered for so many years, have been coming to light on tours and in social media, due to Carol’s work, which has created her own legacy here at Laurel Hill.
Two years ago, The Friends of Laurel Hill Cemetery became The Friends of Laurel Hill & West Laurel Hill Cemeteries and we have so much to learn about our sister cemetery and those buried there. I figured, “what better way to start learning than by diving in?” With some women, one could go down a rabbit hole where one source leads to another and another, and there were others with less information readily available on the internet. But I learned which actual archives held more information. For example, the scripts for every single episode of Aimee Barlow’s (WLHC) “Commando Mary” radio show, that she hosted, are held at the Georgetown University Archive in Washington, D.C. Or, if you subscribe you can read every issue of the Saturday Evening Post from 1821 to the present day, including those that featured the cover artwork of Katharine Wireman (LHC) or those edited by pro-suffrage Adelaide Neall (LHC). The amount of information that can be found at your fingertips on any of these women, or the men in our cemeteries, does not dictate their worth. Every single individual, male or female, in our cemeteries… lived. They had relationships, they worked, and they felt things. We connect with them by our humanity, regardless of the period of our existence.
On August 18, 1920, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, which stated “The right of the citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”. The most important thing that I learned through this project is that just because the 19th Amendment said sex determination does not make one ineligible to vote and the 15th Amendment said race, color, or previous condition of servitude does not make one ineligible to vote… they didn’t eliminate many state laws that disenfranchised men and women of color, preventing them from being able to or feeling comfortable enough to exercise their right to vote. States would go on for decades with laws aimed at keeping people of color from voting, like literacy tests and poll taxes. Many states also turned a blind eye to voter intimidation, violence, and even lynchings at polling places, with no measures enacted to protect voters of color. In fact, women of color were largely left out of mainstream woman’s suffrage because white women did not want their inclusion to affect the progress of the movement in the southern states. Time.com interviewed Martha S. Jones about her book, Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, and it opened my eyes to the truth, I never thought to consider until this year.
Though as a country we have made great strides in voter accessibility, with more Americans voting in this past presidential race than ever before, voter suppression still exists today. Under-resourced polling stations, the inability to procure proper forms of ID (which targets the disabled and those of low income), and the constantly changing and confusing rules on how to register to vote keep millions of Americans each year from voting. If you are interested in learning more about the current voting barriers that exist in our country and how you can help break them down, visit https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/barriers-to-voting-in-the-us/.
So perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned this year, celebrating our dead and researching women’s suffrage, is that the work toward voter equality is never finished. As individuals and the government at all levels, we still have a lot of work to do to shrink the number of those who don’t or cannot vote.
Our work in discovering and sharing the stories of our residents does not end as we have reached the end of this campaign, there are still many more remarkable women (and men) to learn about. We hope that you have enjoyed reading about these women as much as we have enjoyed sharing their stories with you and continue on our journey as we celebrate the 185th Anniversary of Laurel Hill Cemetery in 2021!