What’s the Big Fuss About This “History Detectives” TV Show?

by Marguerite Kearns

I have a big popcorn bowl ready for a History Detectives segment on Tuesday, September 20th (PBS, 8-9 ET). This episode, which focuses on women’s suffrage, is worth watching because it’s rare that women’s history gets much play on national TV. 

The History Detectives program on September 20th features Yvonne Blemly Crumlish and probes the mystery of her grandmother Addie’s suffrage pennant that Yvonne’s father gave her 30 years ago. Yvonne contacted History Detectives to find out about the pennant’s significance, and to see if Grandmother was involved in the movement. The investigation is fascinating, and you’ll really get what all the women’s suffrage fuss is about.

After History Detectives consulted with author and historian Louise Bernikow (below) about the pennant for the show, I contacted Louise so she could lay out her observations about the suffrage movement in a more relaxed way than she could during a brief TV segment. She had some surprising observations. You can listen to one three-minute segment here to see what I mean. And read on for some snippets below. 


The suffrage movement is “colorful,” Lousie says: “When I tell anyone about what happened–particularly women–they get all excited. They like the idea of women organizing together, coming together as opposed to very separate politics we have today. And secondly, at least for me, is the audacity of these women. These are not polite actions. The suffragists aren’t quietly sitting in living rooms and talking to people who basically agree with them. They are out there. The way they won was to be out in the streets.”  

“People love hearing the story because it’s about acting up. Act up, like all the other in-your-face political movements,” Louise continues. “That’s part of why it’s so exciting and inspirational. It shows that if something’s wrong (and what was wrong was that women weren’t citizens), we can organize with our friends and neighbors and accomplish change. So it’s an important piece of history for that reason.”

My entire conversation with Louise Bernikow (in audio segments of a few minutes each) can be found on Votes for Women Salon, a special feature of the Suffrage Wagon News Channel. Find out about suffrage myths, why this history has disappeared, and Lousie’s prediction of a “revival.” If you’d like to join in with Louise and others for a watching party on September 20th, check her website and Facebook page.

This History Detectives show isn’t happening in a vacuum. Across the nation, ongoing Votes for Women centennials are bringing attention to this great part of our history. These celebrations are also considered “cultural tourism” or “heritage tourism,” meaning that people are willing to travel to see these special exhibits and programs, bringing an economic benefit to the cities that are hosting them. therefore there’s an economic development spinoff or stimulus benefit. 

Women from the state of Washington have already taken down their centennial suffrage posters, and Votes for Women anniversaries have already been held in Idaho, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and Kansas, where women first voted at the turn of the 20th century. But there are plenty of other places where the suffrage movement is being recognized. California is celebrating one hundred years of women voting right now. Suffrage centennials for Oregon, Arizona, and Kansas are on a roll for next year. Other states will be gearing up for their centennials, such as New York in 2017. Then, prepare yourself for the big suffrage drum roll in 2020, which will mark the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment in the nation. 

P.S. If you can’t watch the September 20th show, check out the PBS archive following the broadcast where you can link to the program. Don’t forget to send in your comments. Let PBS know about the large numbers of us out here who are interested in this subject.

Photos: Filming segment from the History Detectives Facebook page (Yvonne Crumlish at lower left with the Votes for Women pennant on the table). Photo of Louise Bernikow from her web site.





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