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From Suffragist Sashes to Black Armbands, Law Day Distance Learning Focuses on Role of Courts

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment this year brings to mind vintage photos of white-clad suffragists wearing sashes as they marched for the vote, but few would connect that movement with news footage of teen-aged protesters wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War.

In a new video, produced by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for use in the distance-learning space, an unlikely connection is made between two rights activists from different eras. Suffragist Virginia Minor and Vietnam war protester Mary Beth Tinker were separated by 100 years, but their passions came together in the legal history of St. Louis, where they worked through the courts to seek social change. Both lost their appeals in St. Louis but went on to the Supreme Court of the United States.

Minor’s fight for women's voting rights and Mary Beth Tinker’s First Amendment claims make them fitting standard bearers for Law Day. Since 1958, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the first Law Day, Americans have celebrated the rule of law on May 1 and throughout the month. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, courts and other institutions are offering Law Day programming via distance-learning technology.

The video portrays Minor as a heroine of the 1860s and 1870s women’s suffrage movement. She was a prominent voting rights advocate of her time who was overshadowed in history by Susan B. Anthony and other high-profile leaders. Just the opposite was true of Tinker. She was a shy, accidental heroine of the 1960s and 1970s anti-war movement. She was not widely known to her contemporaries, but her visibility in history has grown over the years.

The video is part of a distance-learning package for teachers, students, and parents that can be used throughout the year for the anniversary of the 19th Amendment and beyond. It takes the women’s suffrage movement out of mothballs and places it into the context of its impact on other movements, including Vietnam War protests, and into the lives of today’s would-be change agents.

The examples of two heroines, over two centuries, invite students to be part of the journey toward justice by way of the court system on their path to achieving the aspirations enshrined in the Constitution and honored every year on Law Day.