Hopkins and the 19th Amendment: Activists in Suffrage and Health Reform
Suffragists from Medicine and Nursing
In the first decades of the twentieth century, nurses, physicians, students, and staff on the Johns Hopkins medical campus were swept up in the national debate over granting women the right to vote.
Many Hopkins figures were integrally involved in suffrage at the local and national levels, publishing newsletters, rallying on street corners, and ultimately going to jail for their activism. In their medical careers they tried to heal the sick, but they couldn't hope to remedy the societal causes of disease without a vote in American government.
Suffragists argued that the health of the country was at stake, both literally and metaphorically.
Some promoted women's votes as the means to an end of achieving Progressive-era social reforms, "cleaning up" disease-stricken industrial cities. Others argued that women's inferior social status was a sign of a sick democracy; as Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi put it, government must represent "all the elements of the body politic" to be fully "alive".
Suffragists in the medical field had special authority to speak on such matters, but also faced dilemmas.
Should they put their careers and bodies on the line in public protests, or work quietly behind the scenes? Should they demand equality, or prove their worth through professional advancement? As a half-century of suffrage struggle reached a critical point in the early 1900s, Johns Hopkins-trained nurses were among those jailed for marching in parades and picket lines.
By 1919, persistent civil disobedience combined with relentless legislative pressure, finally placing what nurse Mary Bartlett Dixon called "our greatest and most necessary weapon" in the hands of women. This exhibit reveals the work done by Hopkins suffragists to win the vote, and how they related this effort to their medical mission.