Members of the Propylaeum have been active in the Women’s Movement throughout the organization’s history. Beginning with our founder, May Wright Sewall, members have taken roles in suffrage, reform, and equality struggles.
May Wright Sewall was a leader in the women’s movement on a national and international level. She organized the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Society in 1878. She attended the International Council of Women in 1888 and 1894. In 1893 she was the chair of the World’s congress of Representative Women at the Chicago World Columbian Exposition and chair of the National Women's Suffrage Association from 1882-1890. In 1915 she served as a delegate on Henry Ford’s peace trip to Europe.
The suffrage movement heated up in the nineteen teens, culminating with the final ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. Prop members took active roles in the movement, locally, statewide, and nationally. Louella McWhirter was a delegate to the National American Woman Suffrage Association in 1914. Katharine Greenough served on the board of the National Women’s Franchise League.
The Legislative Council of Indiana Women linked actions of the General Assembly to the Indiana Franchise League chapters. Sara Lauter served on the council and analyzed bills presented to the legislature about women’s causes and communicated their impact to Franchise League members at a statewide convention in 1917.
The Suffrage Movement in Indianapolis benefitted from the involvement of Prop members. Leaders of the Indianapolis Women’s Franchise League included Louella McWhirter, Celeste Barnhill, Edna Christian, and Mary Jameson. Jessica Brown shared her knowledge and speaking skills, delivering an address at the 1916 Marion County Teacher’s Institute. She deplored the lack of rights available to Indiana women, as a stain on the state, compared to the rest of the nation.
Not all Prop members supported the suffrage movement. In 1917, Sarah Atkins made headlines saying, “When the time comes that men need the assistance of women in running political affairs, they will be the first to give them the ballot.”
After the passage of the 19th Amendment, Katharine Greenough held an active role in the forming of the national organization of the League of Women Voters. The early actions of the league focused on preparing women to approach their new-found right. Greenough wrote pamphlets for nation-wide distribution about how to mark a ballot and ways to make an informed decision about the candidates.
In the last three decades of the twentieth century, women’s activism turned to different causes. Jill Chambers served as president of the Indiana and Indianapolis chapters of the National Organization for Women. While serving with NOW, she examined FCC renewal licenses at radio and TV broadcasters for hiring, promotion practices regarding women and minorities; A project Jane Pauley credited with opening the door for her first media job. Chambers marched in cities through the nation in support of the Equal Rights Amendment and other causes related to the health and welfare of women.
Each of these women expressed their beliefs using their innate talents. Just as today, Prop members have wide-ranging interests to be celebrated.