ChalkTheVoteOR: Understanding History to Envision Tomorrow

August 18, 2020

By Isa Ruelas

To honor, complicate, and be in conversation with the many changes to voting rights in our state’s and nation’s history, the Oregon Historical Society and the Oregon Women’s History Consortium are launching the #ChalkTheVoteOR campaign. It is a fun way to get outside and reflect (while social distancing) on how that history helps us better understand our current political climate around protest, activism, civil rights, and voting.

August 26, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Constitution's extension of voting rights to most women. The traditional narrative of woman suffrage begins at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, when educated and elite white women aired their demands and grievances in the “Declaration of Sentiments,” and concludes gloriously in 1920, with the ratification of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing all women citizens the right to vote. Telling such a narrow, self-contained version of suffrage history, however, is an injustice to the movement and its legacy — a legacy inextricably linked to race, gender, and citizenship.

As we near the November 2020 election, it is an ideal time to explore the long and continuing struggle for — and suppression of — universal suffrage in the United States. To help individuals, families, teachers, community organizations, and workplace groups better understand this important history, the Oregon Historical Society (OHS), in partnership with the Oregon Women’s History Consortium (OWHC), is launching the #ChalkTheVoteOR campaign. The campaign aims to honor, complicate, and be in conversation with the many changes to voting rights in our state’s and nation’s history. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on how that history helps us better understand our current political climate around protest, activism, civil rights, and voting. 

Anti-woman suffrage campaign button. OHS Museum, 87-25.6599
The United States has a long history of the struggle for and the suppression of voting rights. This pin-back button held in the OHS Museum collection urges voters to vote “no” on woman suffrage. Oregon women who were citizens gained the right to vote in 1912, and, with the 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, the U.S. Constitution granted that right to eligible women across the country. This button is on display in OHS’s permanent exhibit, “Experience Oregon.” OHS Museum, 87-25.6599.
Morning Oregonian, July 9, 1912, p3
Chalking sidewalks in support of votes dates back to at least 1912. On July 9, 1912, the Morning Oregonian published this notice describing how young women used chalk to advertise a talk on woman suffrage.

Chalking sidewalks in support of votes is not a new concept. In 1912, noted national lecturer on suffrage and labor issues, Frances Squire Potter, came to give a lecture at the Taylor Street Methodist Episcopal Church in Portland, Oregon. On the day of the event, young supporters chalked the sidewalks around the church to encourage passersby to attend that lecture. In the lead-up to the presidential election, we are following in their footsteps and chalking reminders of the critical steps on the journey to universal suffrage — especially during this time of voter suppression.

There are five main Constitutional Amendments and laws that attempt to form the legal foundation of full voting rights — universal suffrage — in the United States and are the foundation of #ChalkTheVoteOR. These legislative remedies tell stories of how progress is neither linear nor uncontested and of how the victories of previous generations can be transformational for some and incomplete for others. They also show us how the democratic promises of the United States’ founding narrative, a “government by the people, for the people,” can be realized through the work and activism of everyday people, including voting. Below is a timeline of those five important laws and amendments. To read about each, click or swipe through the timeline.

After learning more about these crucial pieces of voting rights legislation, OHS and OWHC encourage readers to chalk the text of these significant amendments and acts, draw pictures, create timelines, or write the names of voting rights activists to help encourage education around and participation in voting. Our hope is to spark cross-generational dialogue about how voting rights intersect, currently and historically, with protest, activism, and civil rights. Over the next three months leading up to the November 3 election, we will be sharing other community activities to encourage voter registration and continued education around the history of voting rights, such as creating a toy protest, recreating protest signs from voting rights movements, and even baking a recipe from a suffrage cookbook!

Share your photos on social media with the hashtag #ChalktheVoteOR and tag OHS (@oregonhistory) and OWHC (@oregonwomenshistory) on Facebook or OHS (@oregonhistoricalsociety) and OWHC (@oregonwomenshistory) on Instagram. We’ll share posts on our social channels between the woman suffrage centennial on August 26 and the national election on November 3, 2020 — and we will feature some of our favorite community photos in an election day post on Dear Oregon.

Charlotte Faulkner participates in #ChalktheVoteOR. Photo courtesy Mary Faulkner
Charlotte Faulkner, daughter of OHS Board President Mary Faulkner, participates in the #ChalktheVoteOR campaign in her neighborhood by chalking a picture of a suffragist on her sidewalk.

The Fight Continues

How do I register to vote in Oregon?

The deadline to register to vote in Oregon during the upcoming November 3, 2020, election is Tuesday, October 13 (21 days before the election). You can register online at the Oregon Secretary of State website. You can also check your Oregon voter registration status on MyVote.

When do I need to update my registration?

You should update your registration if you move, change your name or mailing address, or want to select or change your party affiliation. Registering a name change should be done using the paper registration form so the Secretary of State’s office has a record of your new signature.

When are ballots mailed in Oregon?

If you have registered by the deadline, ballots arrive in the mail approximately two weeks before an election. If you are not yet 18 years of age, you will not receive a ballot until an election occurs on or after your 18th birthday.

What if I have other questions?

Please check your local county election division to answer any question about voting and elections. The Oregon Historical Society is located in Multnomah County, and our county election division can be accessed here.

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The views expressed in user comments do not reflect the views of OHS. The Oregon Historical Society does not participate in political campaigns, nor do we support or oppose candidates.