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Mar 13, 2020

(March 7, 2020) As Hoosier History Live salutes Women's History Month, we will spotlight Indiana suffragists - including a former first lady of the state - whom we have not previously explored.

Lisa HendricksonWe took a deep dive into the women's rights crusade during our Jan. 18 show, and now we delve into strides Hoosier women made in the political arena after achieving the right to vote in 1920. But there also were setbacks, including some that already had occurred by the late 1920s.

Virginia Jenckes, a widow who managed her family's farm near Terre Haute, became the first woman from Indiana elected to the U.S. Congress in 1932. During that era, Logansport resident Leonora Uhl Flynn rose to prominence on the Democratic National Committee and became a valuable ally of Eleanor Roosevelt.

Long before that, Zerelda Wallace, who served as Indiana's first lady from 1837 to 1840, was a pioneering suffragist. She also was the stepmother of Gen. Lew Wallace, author of the blockbuster bestseller Ben-Hur published in 1880.

Those women will be among the trail-blazers discussed in our periodic series as the Indiana Women's Suffrage Centennial, a statewide network of women's and history organizations, celebrates the upcoming 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 26, 1920. Nelson will be joined by two guests:

  • Lisa Hendrickson, an Indianapolis-based editor, writer and owner of Lisa Hendrickson Communications. She has researched various Indiana suffragists and aspects of the women's rights movement during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.<
  • Larry PaarlbergAnd Larry Paarlberg, director of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum in Crawfordsville. He will share insights about Zerelda Wallace, who was married to Indiana's sixth governor, David Wallace. More than 15 years after her husband's death in 1859, Zerelda Wallace became a forceful proponent for women's voting rights and was elected the first president of the Equal Suffrage Society of Indianapolis.

Zerelda Wallace was "Gentle in spirit and proper in demeanor [yet] ardent in her beliefs," according to Indiana's 200: The People Who Shaped the Hoosier State (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2016). A historic marker on Fort Wayne Avenue in downtown Indianapolis commemorates Zerelda Wallace, who died in 1901 - and, thus, never enjoyed the right to vote.

Even after the 1920 landmark for suffrage, the path for women in politics was bumpy. According to research by our guest Lisa Hendrickson, by the late 1920s women already were "losing ground" in leadership positions in both political parties; for example, 33 percent fewer women attended the Democratic National Convention in 1928 compared to four years previously.

Virginia Jenckes, a Democrat, served three terms in Congress following her historic victory in 1932. She promised to go to Washington as "the friend of the farmer and the working man."

Her campaign manager was her 19-year-old daughter.