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.
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.”