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Women's History Month Keynote Address - "Women and the Right to Vote: A History Unfinished" presented by Dr. Lisa Tetrault, History, Carnegie Mellon University

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Women's History Month


Professor Tetrault specializes in the history of U.S. women and gender. A historian of the nineteenth century, she focuses on social movements (particularly feminism), American democracy, and the politics of memory.

Her first book, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women's Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (University of North Carolina Press, 2014) won the Organization of American Historians' inaugural Mary Jurich Nickliss women's history book prize. The Myth uncovers the politics behind the manufacture of an origins myth for feminism. Typically, the beginning of a women’s rights movement in the United States is dated to 1848, to the first women’s rights meeting in Seneca Falls, NY. This origins story, however, did not become commonplace until much late, born of the politics of Reconstruction. A handful of women created this story in response to Reconstruction-era politics, some forty to fifty years after the actual meeting, with broad-reaching implications for the content and direction of the movement.

Tetrault is currently at work on a book titled Enter Woman Suffrage: A Wholly New History of Reconstruction, 1865-1878. It investigates the broad and frequent debates about women’s voting, most of which are unrecognized, during the Reconstruction Era. Departing from previous scholarship, it does not center the suffrage movement as its main unit of analysis. Rather it explores how ordinary and elite Americans engaged with the issue, which they did repeatedly in this era. And it ties those debates to the main debates of Reconstruction, uniting two histories that still remain unnaturally separated.

Tetrault also lectures on the U.S. suffrage movement, broadly construed, and is active as a public historian. In 2019, she delivered the National Portrait Gallery’s Votes for Women Exhibit keynote address, “Resistance, Persistence, and Reframing the Nineteenth Amendment,” offering a new approach to this historic amendment.

Tetrault’s work has been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, the Newberry Library, and the Smithsonian Institution. The American Historical Association and the Library of Congress awarded her the 2007 J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship, then given for the most promising book by a young historian. She has also received funding from the Huntington Library, the Schlesinger Library, the Sophia Smith Collection, and many others.

In 2018, Tetrault was awarded the college's Elliot Dunlap Smith Teaching Award.

Listen to Lisa Tetrault:

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