A look behind the scenes of the Monitor's suffrage coverage

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York (left), Barbara Lee of California (center), and Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire take a selfie on the first day of the 116th Congress, Jan. 3, 2019.

In January, when a group of editors and writers first gathered to talk about how we should cover the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage, we never dreamed that the project would be overshadowed by a pandemic and by protests over racial injustice. 

We wanted to tell the story not just of a hard-won victory for women’s voting rights in 1920 and the ongoing struggle for equality today, but also of the evolution of women into global leaders.

By mid-March, all of us were working from home. We refined our story list and made assignments. Staff writers from California to South Africa jumped on board. We were elated when Elaine Weiss, the noted historian and author of “The Woman’s Hour,” agreed to write the cover story.   

Why We Wrote This

We wanted to tell the story of the hard-won victory for women’s voting rights in 1920, along with the evolution of women into global leaders. To see all the stories in our special 100th anniversary edition, click here.

One of the questions the group asked was: “Why has progress for American women not kept pace with that in many other developed nations?” After 100 years, shouldn’t women be on equal footing with men in every sphere, from boardrooms to living rooms to factory floors? We wanted to know what societal attitudes and perceptions impede this goal. We also wanted to explore leadership not just in the United States, but around the world.   

We decided to devote an entire issue of the Weekly magazine to pondering these questions and to examining women’s progress (and lack thereof). 

By July, graphic designer Karen Norris had developed a visual language for the issue, which included a palette of purple and gold, the colors adopted by women’s suffrage groups in the U.S. 

Karen also designed the rose medallion on our cover and throughout the magazine. In 1920, roses were worn in the lapels of those who supported women’s right to vote (yellow) and those who opposed it (red). Our rose serves as a leitmotif: The “petals” are made of intersecting lines that symbolize the many facets of women’s lives, individually and collectively, that integrate into the whole.

While the rose motif struck as a flash of inspiration, other decisions were more difficult. For example, the print version of the timeline went through many iterations. We kept adding women and their achievements, until the timeline had ballooned beyond all space constraints, and tough decisions had to be made. It was important that our lineup reflect the contributions of women of color and other marginalized groups, who were often forgotten or denied credit for their accomplishments. We hoped to provide a thumbnail narrative of women’s firsts across a number of fields. Seeking guidance, we enlisted the help of historian Susan Ware. Readers, no doubt, will have additional ideas of who should be represented. 

As we are learning, especially in recent months, a society cannot move forward with just one group holding the reins of power. Ultimately, leadership must be shared across race, class, economic status, and gender. Attitudes are shifting, slowly. As a professor in one story tells her students, “It’s not about ‘Just get out of [women’s] way.’ It’s walk the journey with them.”

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.