Lifting up Extraordinary Women

Leslie Barlow's painting included in the "Minnesota Suffragists" Catherine G. Murphy Gallery series.

Leslie Barlow, Dr. Martha Rogers Ripley, (Detail) 2020, oil on panel, 30"x48". Image courtesy of Twin Cities PBS.

Leadership and learning go hand-in-hand, especially when learning shapes public understanding. Community-engaged students and faculty at St. Catherine University have taken leadership in shaping the Minnesota narrative of the 100th anniversary celebration of the passing of the 19th Amendment through a series of projects with Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) and the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS).

As part of Women’s History Month and the ongoing exploration of women leaders in Minnesota’s suffrage movement, the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) is opening an exhibit titled “Extraordinary Women” on March 6, 2021. St. Kate’s students began influencing this exhibit over a year ago in an honors seminar class, “Nevertheless She Persisted: Celebrating 100 Years of Suffrage Activism in the U.S.,” taught by Rachel Neiwert, PhD, associate professor of history, and Elizabeth Otto, assistant professor of communication studies.

St. Kate’s students and faculty contribute to Minnesota’s suffrage movement exhibit as part of Women’s History Month

The students spent many hours reviewing primary sources in the MNHS archives to learn about people and organizations in Minnesota’s suffrage movement. They proposed exhibit ideas based on their research to MNHS exhibit developers as well as a filmmaker and a producer from TPT. The students’ presentations influenced the content of the TPT documentary Citizen, set to re-air on March 22 at 8 p.m. on TPT 2.

This work gave students a glimpse of their ability to influence how historical narratives are understood. “History doesn’t repeat itself — it’s not finished,” says Professor Otto. “We are building on the women who came before us, and complacency is not an option if we want to create a socially just world.”

Anastasia Rousseau ’22 presented her research on the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Association and is included in an MNHS online suffrage series. “I am fascinated in learning about the suffrage history of Minnesota and the way our community has been shaped by our past,” she said.

Collaboration between St. Kate’s and MNHS continued throughout the reimagined remote learning. Honors students in Professor Otto and Professor Neiwert’s fall 2020 class recorded reflections on what suffrage means to them in videos that will be included in the Extraordinary Women exhibit.

“That level of deep engagement, where class projects are designed to sync with our exhibit development process, was unique for us and a great success,” says Kate Roberts, senior exhibit developer at MNHS. “The suffragists were women who did whatever they could, whenever they could, to make the world better for themselves and for future generations. I see that spirit of social action and commitment to the common good very much alive at St. Kate's today.”

Campuswide Connection in the Context of the Larger Community

Engaging with nonprofit partners through coursework was just one way that the students observed the centennial of the 19th Amendment during the 2020-21 academic year.

“The suffrage centennial allowed [the Center for Community Work and Learning] to support a myriad of courses that took on this topic and applied their learning within their discipline-specific focus, from art and honors to fashion design and marketing,” says D’Ann Urbaniak Lesch, director of the Center for Community Work and Learning. “Despite the pandemic, we were able to achieve robust collaboration through creative and thoughtful opportunities for students to impact messaging, conversations, and education.”