The Mountain Heritage Center features new exhibit celebrating the 19th Amendment

Gertrude Dills McKee- Photo Credit: Anne McKee Austin through the Mountain Heritage Center

The Mountain Heritage Center at Western Carolina University has a new exhibit open that showcases the legacies of the women behind the 19th Amendment.

The exhibit titled, Rightfully Ours: Women’s Suffrage in Western North Carolina, features three parts focusing on the national struggle for voting rights, local suffragists, and on-campus voting.

Pam Meister, Director of the Mountain Heritage Center, explained the importance of unveiling this exhibit for the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.

“For almost 2 years we wanted to do an exhibit that would celebrate the centennial anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Then when we started looking around, we realized that there are some wonderful local stories to be told and that here in Western North Carolina is where the movement got its official start in the state,” Meister said.

Meister added that it was necessary to highlight the national struggle for voting rights and the often-overlooked issues that arose.

“The Women’s Suffrage Movement ultimately became a state rights issue. You cannot talk about the movement without talking about reconstruction, Jim Crow Laws, and the racist aspects of this movement,” Meister added.

The local portion of this exhibit spotlights an abundance of suffragists from Western North Carolina, one of which has a direct tie to WCU.

“Our first female state senator was Gertrude Dills McKee. The McKee Building here on campus is named after her because she was not only a state senator, but also a two-term trustee here at Western Carolina University,” said Meister.

Autumn Chandler, intern at The Mountain Heritage Center, explained the importance of learning the history of these local suffragists.

“It’s important to keep these women’s legacies alive because it took so long to just get to women’s suffrage and even past that, especially this election year, it’s taken so long to get to universal suffrage,” Chandler said.

The Mountain Heritage Center partnered with the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning to create a portion of the exhibit highlighting the on-campus polling place and the importance of voting in the upcoming election.

The polling place, located in the multipurpose room of the University Center, has been active for 4 years and it allows easy access for anyone in the community to vote. It will be active during early voting for the upcoming general election.

Lane Perry, Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, explained the crucial part that college-aged voters play in elections.

“College students represent one of the largest voting demographics in the US, though they vote at the lowest rate of all demographic groups. Candidates know this. Candidates address and tailor their messages to the demographics and people who actually vote. So, if college students could organize themselves and become an engaged voting demographic, then more politicians might address the issues that are of most importance to those individuals,” Perry said.

The Mountain Heritage Center hopes to encourage students to vote by featuring an interactive portion of the exhibit that will allow viewers to scan a QR code to register to vote and to request an absentee ballot.

The exhibit is now open for students to view and will have additional information added throughout the time it is available for viewing.