By STEFAN MODRICH
Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham is credited for being the first to describe journalism as “the first rough draft of history.”
Malcolm Gladwell, bestselling author and journalist, has a podcast called “Revisionist History” which attempts to explain things that have been overlooked or misunderstood. And there is, in my estimation, plenty about the topic of suffrage in America that remains either overlooked or misunderstood.
As we inch closer to Election Day, we finally have the privilege to present our special edition commemorating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which revisits an important chapter in Fort Bend County history, a time in which some women were granted the right to vote.
As you’ll read in our reporting, it wasn’t enough to ensure that many of your neighbors would have been able to vote at the time, and it is an important step for Fort Bend County to recognize its own shortcomings and accounting for them by ensuring that women (and all people) of color were eventually able to vote after being disenfranchised for far too long.
I have several people to extend my thanks toward for their time and effort in helping me research and report my stories on the past, present and future of women’s suffrage and political participation. First and foremost, to all of the candidates and elected officials, but also to the researchers, like Dr. Jessica Brannon-Wranosky, a professor of digital humanities and history at Texas A&M University-Commerce and the project director for the Handbook of Texas Women.
She gave me a heads up to what I would soon realize (to both my disappointment and my delight, as I’ve always loved a challenge) during my subsequent conversations with other historians — that much of the details of the lives and careers of the Suffragists in Fort Bend County is unknown. So rest assured, I have not told a definitive history of this movement, but I will not cease in my desire to continue digging to ensure that future anniversaries will be celebrated more holistically and with greater appreciation for the depth of the historical context of the women’s suffrage movement in Fort Bend County.
I also am grateful for the support of Betty Chapman and Rae Bryant of the Houston Suffragists Project, Chris Godbold of the Fort Bend History Museum, Carol Beauchamp of the George Memorial Library, and all of the candidates, officials and voters who took their time to share their perspectives with me for this series of stories.
Much like the women who stepped up to make sure their voice was heard at the polls, Brannon-Wranosky said there is a need to continue to document and research the history of women’s suffrage at the grassroots level. She said she’s currently working on a book that documents the women’s suffrage in Texas as part of a larger southern regional push and its connection to the national movement.
“We need a lot more local suffrage history done and always do,” Brannon-Wranosky said during my conversation with her on Sept. 25. “Currently there is not a book on suffrage in Texas from the local perspective, even a regional perspective. (Suffrage) will be mentioned in a book about Dallas women, Galveston women, or San Antonio, whatever. But we don’t have a book that just talks about suffrage at the local level.”
As Brannon-Wranosky also told me, I am sure the COVID-19 pandemic has also limited access to archives as many professors and academic professionals work from home.
It is my hope that the digital scanning and archiving of documents and artifacts from the period has only temporarily been slowed and that there is more in the form of public records and tangible pieces of history out there for the public to consume.
In any case, I humbly call upon the public and the researchers and historians of Fort Bend County’s various historical preservation organizations to help us come together to try to compile a more complex and thorough history, one that we can all be proud of, in spite of its flaws, and look toward a future where we can measure the progress we’ve made.