On February 2, the Society of Skeptics was excited to welcome speakers from The League of Women Voters Berkeley Heights, New Providence & Summit (LWV-BHNPS). Their presentation centered on the importance of song in the Women's Suffrage movement, as well as the need for continued scholarship around women's suffrage and how young people can be part of securing broader voting rights for all. To view their presentation, please click below:
According to Susan Ferris, past -president of LWV-BHNPS, the organization has spent the past two years chronicling the history of American feminism through song to commemorate the upcoming centennial of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote. League members and local high school and college interns have researched and written a 60-page book with the working title of Songs of the Suffragists: Lyrics of American Feminism from 1850 to 2020.
“Our goal in creating the Songs of the Suffragists is to educate the public about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the cultural change represented by the selected feminist songs,” Ms. Ferris said. “Some of the song lyrics included in the book are only available from the Library of Congress or local historical society archives, so by publishing this book we would assist with the preservation of this important part of American history.”
Based in Union County, the LWV-BHNPS is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization devoted to educating voters and supporting public participation in politics. This includes facilitating state and local candidates’ forums, organizing and sponsoring educational events, running voter registration drives and performing other similar services in Union County. Members also regularly moderate debates so that voters can become better informed about their choices.
Along with the state and national LWV, the chapter assists in the VOTE411 program and in summarizing referenda. Ms. Ferris explained that the LWV-BHNPS is a grassroots organization, primarily funded by member dues and gifts. The revenue provided by sales of this book will assist the chapter in its mission to empower voters and defend democracy. Projects like Songs of the Suffragists are a key component of that mission.
“In its broadest terms, our overall presentation was about the role of culture in effecting political change,” said Laura Engelhardt, project manager of the Songs of the Suffragists project. “We discussed the history of American feminism through song lyrics, focusing on the critical need to persuade people, and not merely to change laws.”
Ms. Engelhardt noted that the presentation included snippets of pre-1920’s songs, including, “Oh Dear What Can the Matter Be” and “Eliza Jane,” as well as songs from after women won the right to vote, including “Four Women,” “The Pill” and “Liar,” presenting them in the context of the feminist movement.
“We hope people took away an understanding of how closely contested the fight for gender equality has been, an appreciation for the tremendous progress made toward that goal, and the awareness that they can make a difference going forward,” Ms. Engelhardt said.
The History of Skeptics
The Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program, which is funded in part by The Class of 1968 Society of Skeptics Endowment Fund, was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon. ’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller and his successor, history department chair Jason Beck, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.