OXFORD, Miss. (AP) - The struggle for the right to vote was shared by women across America before the passage of the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in 1920.
Yet while they shared the vision of casting votes alongside their male counterparts, how they approached the mission was radically different. Some wanted to do it diplomatically while others sought more rebellious methods.
The conflict between the women’s suffrage movement leaders will be played out on stage Oct. 22-24 when Theatre Oxford presents “It’s My Party!” at the Powerhouse community arts center. The docudrama, written by Ann Timmons, is being presented jointly with the League of Women Voters Oxford/North Mississippi in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the amendment ratification.
Eight women play the leaders of the rival suffrage groups and the journalists, including Mississippi native Ida B. Wells-Barnett, who reported on the movement.
“There were different philosophies, approaches and tactics. They were definitely not in agreement with each other,” said Jackie Daniels, director of “It’s My Party!”.
On one side are the women who represent the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), which pushed for a constitutional amendment.
Carrie Chapman Catt (played by Jennifer Mizenko) is a political strategist who serves as NAWSA president between 1915-20. Dr. Anna Howard Shaw (Lynn Wells), a physician and ordained minister, was NAWSA president before Catt. Maud Wood Park (Susan Bradley) is NAWSA’s chief lobbyist in Congress.
Wells-Barnett (Allyson Alford), a Chicago journalist who was born in Holly Springs, joins with the white suffrage movements but also fights for the voting rights of Black women through her own group, the Alpha Suffrage Club. Wells-Barnett was a prominent voice in the suffrage and Civil Rights movements.
“I love Ida B. Wells, and I’m so honored to play this role,” said Alford, an Oxford resident and 2018 graduate of the University of Mississippi. “(The play) reminds me of everything she did to make sure I’m able to vote. This is a humbling experience, and I will vote in honor of Ida B. Wells.”
On the other side are women who split from the NAWSA in 1916 to form the National Woman’s Party (NWP).
Alice Paul (Robyn Medeiros) and Lucy Burns (Jennifer Lauriello) bring radical ideas they learned from European suffragists to America to pressure for change. Dora Lewis (Marjorie Buckley) is a chief lieutenant of the NWP and Winifred Mallon (Brenna Paola), a Chicago Tribune reporter covering Capitol Hill, is a friend of Paul’s.
“The National Woman’s Party, Alice Paul and Lucy Burns, had been in Europe and learned all these picketing tactics, protesting and burning things, and hunger strikes,” Daniels said. “The NAWSA was definitely opposed to those things. They just wanted to do it by the book, being ladies. The other one didn’t care about being ladies. They just wanted that vote.”
Mizenko, an Ohio native who resides in Oxford, said she’s proud to play a trailblazer like Catt, who founded the League of Women Voters in 1920. She said the determination shown by leaders of the suffrage movement continues to inspire women today.
“I attended the Women’s March on Washington in 2017, and I was really blown away by all the women from all over the country I was with on that day,” Mizenko said. “This play touches a lot of the same issues that women were dealing with a hundred years ago and are still present in our modern times. It’s important to us to have a voice and our voice to be heard. To vote is one of the most important things an American citizen can have.”
Medeiros, an Ole Miss junior from Millington, Tennessee, said being a cast member of “It’s My Party!” motivated her to register to vote in this year’s election.
“When I turned 18, I was so overwhelmed by the transition to college life that I didn’t want to add another thing to my plate,” she said. “I was feeling similarly this year. But after learning about what Alice and Lucy went through to achieve this right, I couldn’t pass it up. There’s definitely a power to it, to have a say in how government should be run.”
The production has made a few COVID-19 adjustments. Rehearsals take place outside on a loading bay attached to the Powerhouse, a former power plant near the Oxford square. The cast and crew wear face shields or masks to protective themselves.
“It’s been OK. It makes you a bit crazy every now and then,” Daniels said. “For them to hear me – I have all these allergies – sometimes I have to pull my mask down for them to hear, but they’re well away from me, and they’re OK with it. When they have no one around them, sometimes they’ll take the mask down in order to do a speech.”
Show time each day is 7:30 p.m. Because of Covid guidelines, seating will be limited to accommodate social distancing. Masks will be required for all audience members.
Tickets are $10 for Theatre Oxford members, students and seniors, $15 for nonmembers. Online sales at oxfordarts.com and theatreoxford.org/shows will end at 5 p.m. on the day of the play. Tickets will be available at the door. The production will be recorded for future viewing online.
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