Editor's Letter is an introduction to the contents and themes of each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage by the editor.

August 18, 2020, will mark the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, guaranteeing women the right to vote. In issues of Pennsylvania Heritage leading to this significant anniversary, we will be featuring articles on the early 20th-century movement that led to suffrage as it played out in Pennsylvania, as well as the stories of women’s achievements in the Keystone State before and since the time of the amendment.

Two features in this edition focus on Pennsylvania women’s efforts prior to the amendment, both of which spotlight a forthcoming exhibition at The State Museum of Pennsylvania. “Ringing Out for Women’s Suffrage” by Curtis Miner, senior history curator at the museum, recounts an unsuccessful but ultimately influential campaign to win the vote for women in the commonwealth by referendum in 1915. The article is illustrated with documentary photographs and ephemera from the effort, which was invigorated by a 67-county speaking tour by automobile, towing a replica of the Liberty Bell with its clapper fettered, symbolizing the silencing of women’s voices through disenfranchisement.

To Form a More Perfect Union” describes the rise of the groundbreaking American Renaissance artist Violet Oakley, the first woman to receive a government mural commission in America, who was then chosen in 1911 to succeed the late Edwin Austin Abbey in adorning the walls of the chambers remaining to be painted in the new 1906 Pennsylvania State Capitol. Author Patricia Likos Ricci, professor of the history of art at Elizabethtown College and noted Oakley scholar, discusses the artist’s journey as it paralleled the struggle for women’s suffrage and then examines Oakley’s masterful Senate Chamber murals of historical scenes set in Pennsylvania depicting the challenges to freedom and equality faced by the nation to that time, all of it overarched by a magnificent allegorical painting of a “lady in blue” representing unity and tolerance.

Another great struggle for human rights in America — the fight to liberate enslaved African Americans — ignited almost as soon as the nation was born. As a political battle intensified, secret networks arose to give temporary sanctuary to fugitives escaping from slaveholding states and assist them on their journeys to freedom. “Three Generations on the Underground Railroad” tells the story of one Quaker family, the Gibbonses of Lancaster County, who were part of the complex of safe houses in southeastern Pennsylvania that operated from the late 18th century until the time of the Civil War. Journalist Jack Brubaker weaves together the episodes of what was a Gibbons family tradition of freedom fighting that was carried on after emancipation through the civil rights work of later-generation activist Marianna Gibbons Brubaker.

Soldiers of Production,” the next installment in our ongoing series of articles for the 75th anniversary commemoration of World War II, presents another instance of Pennsylvanians actively involved in a fight for freedom. The piece centers on Berwick’s American Car & Foundry plant, a railroad rolling stock manufacturer that increased its workforce and expanded its production during wartime to begin building tanks (as well as armor plating, artillery shells and aerial bombs) for the U.S. Army. Author Brenda Gaydosh, Berwick native and West Chester University history professor, describes how men and women in the Columbia County borough and surrounding areas of northeastern Pennsylvania contributed significantly to the Allied victory through their labor, starting in 1939, when the company received a War Department contract to manufacture tanks for the imperiled British, to continuing production once the U.S. entered the war, resulting in a total of 13,728 light tanks built at the facility by April 1944.

Along with the compelling features in this issue, you can read more about the movement for women’s suffrage in Pennsylvania in the departments Our Documentary Heritage (Pennsylvania’s ratification of the 19th Amendment), Marking Time (suffragist Anna Howard Shaw), and Wish You Were Here (the suffrage-advocating Women’s Christian Temperance Union). Look for more on Pennsylvania women’s history in upcoming editions as we commemorate 100 years of the 19th Amendment.

Kyle R. Weaver