June 01, 2020
By Rachael Blaine
In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment this summer, students and faculty at Susquehanna University incorporated new ways to promote feminism and women’s rights, both on campus and beyond.
Associate Professor of Theatre Anna Andes and Assistant Professor of English & Creative Writing Monica Prince collaborated to create A Pageant of Agitating Women, a play detailing the history of women’s suffrage in the United States.
The production, which was based on the 1910 play A Pageant of Great Women, by English dramatist Cicely Hamilton, made its debut in February. Prince explains that Andes “spent months trying to find an American play written by a woman that acknowledged women of color and couldn’t find a single one. So, she decided to write one.”
The pair had been discussing creating a suffrage play since last summer, and over their winter break, they got to work with the help of dramaturgs Honor Ford ’20 and Erin Markham ’21. The four of them became self-proclaimed experts on suffrage and produced A Pageant of Agitating Women in the short span of two months.
Prince reflected on the difficulty of researching lesser-known suffragists, particularly suffragists of color. “The experience taught me how to teach students to look for the names that are not written about. If you don’t know what something is, you don’t know how to research it,” she says.
Andes saw the production as offering a unique perspective on suffrage and racism. Unlike most literature documenting women’s suffrage in the United States, A Pageant of Agitating Women does not end with the passage of the 19th Amendment. As the play explains, this was only the end of the suffrage movement for white women; women of color were not given the same rights until decades later.
“I wanted to show that it’s not that simple to just celebrate this,” Andes says of the anniversary.
With the exception of one role, every actor in the pageant had to fit two criteria: identify as non-male and believe in women’s suffrage. The playbill featured the full cast, including many students, faculty and staff outside the theatre department — from chemistry to neuroscience and even Susquehanna’s First Lady, Ms. Lynn Buck. The actors represented more than 60 women in history.
“Working in a space like that was incredibly freeing. The conversations we were able to have both during and after rehearsals as a team made for one of the strongest bonds I’ve ever seen within a company,” says Ford of the actors involved.
The sole role for a man was that of Frederick Douglass, who was required to sit at the back of the audience and was never allowed to step onstage. Prince explained that was done on purpose.
“Women were forced to stay in a particular place, communicate with specific people and stay out of sight, just as we did with Frederick Douglass,” she says. “He had to be in the audience, where it’s an inconvenience to find out who’s speaking. You care less about who’s talking then.”
Looking back, Andes believes that Pageant is “the most meaningful thing [she has] done since coming to Susquehanna.”
Through the production, she and Prince were able to create something that embraced the wider Susquehanna community beyond her own department.
A Pageant of Agitating Women is not the only project showcasing the women’s movement on campus. Last fall, Professor of Philosophy Coleen Zoller’s feminist philosophy class collaborated with the Blough-Weis Library to create a feminist pop-up museum.
Its primary focus was to showcase the ways in which feminism has come to be an essential part of Susquehanna’s campus. The class used the library archives and research from a capstone project done by Rachel Baer ’17 to find most of their information about local feminist icons such as late faculty member Susan Bowers.
Bowers taught at Susquehanna from 1984 to 2014. In that time, she co-founded the university’s Women’s Studies Program and became its first director. She also served as director of the Diversity Studies Program. Throughout her time at Susquehanna, she championed feminist ideals and helped pave the way for more diversity in the faculty and student body. Bowers passed away in early 2019.
Through the project, Zoller also wanted to raise awareness of students suffering from imposter syndrome. “They feel like they aren’t doing enough, but they’re doing too much,” Zoller says.
Imposter syndrome refers to the belief that one’s success is somehow undeserved. It disproportionately affects women, and more specifically women of color. “On average, women are excelling more. Women are carrying more than their fair share of leadership on campus to try and ‘shake off the imposter syndrome,’” Zoller says.
In the future, Zoller hopes to help more people understand the impact of feminism, both on campus and off. She emphasizes how “studying feminism gives you a way around the logic of domination. All we’ve known is domination and oppression. Feminism has potential to show others another way with the ethics of mutual care and love.”
And Prince agrees with those sentiments. “[A professor’s] job is to create compassionate global leaders, and that’s what feminism is about.” She hopes to see her students become advocates because, as she goes on to say, “You can’t call yourself an advocate without being a feminist.”