Framing the 19th Amendment Narrative with Emily Ramshaw and Doris Kearns Goodwin

Audio Description

The centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment marks a historic milestone. But for Emily Ramshaw, co-founder of The 19th*, it also represents unfinished business.  With her newly launched nonprofit newsroom—by women, for women—she’s seizing the moment to elevate women’s voices and stories, particularly those who are underserved. In this episode, we’ll hear from Emily, along with America’s historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, on the struggle for women’s right to vote, the responsibility to step up for something greater, and why representation in media matters. 

Transcript

00:00 - 00:30

Welcome to Women & Wealth, I'm Beata Kirr, Co-head in Investment Strategies at Bernstein, and this podcast aims to educate and inspire women to make the right choices for their wealth. I'm so excited to be here today with Emily Ramshaw, who is the co-founder and CEO of the website the 19th. So Emily was recently the editor in chief of the Texas Tribune, which is a Peabody Award winning 10-year-old news startup.

00:30 - 01:05

And that startup boasted the largest statehouse bureau in the nation and was considered the gold standard for sustainability and local news. She's also the youngest person ever to be named to the board of the Pulitzer Prize, where she's now serving a nine-year term. Now before helping to found the Tribune a decade ago, Emily was an award winning investigative reporter at the Dallas Morning News. She's a native of DC and she graduated from Northwestern. So we have that in common as I went to Kellogg with dual degrees in journalism and American history.

01:06 - 01:17

I am so excited to have Emily with me here today. So thank you for joining me. Oh, my gosh, the pleasure is mine. I am really inspired and excited by your website.

01:17 - 01:49

I know in your background I spent time talking about your history. But what we're going to focus on today is the importance of history and what is going on with the 19th. I want to tell everybody about the 19th and then have you comment on why you founded it and how you view your mission. And we'll really dive in, because this is the month that we're celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment. And we know that the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. But I want to comment on the fact that it did not give all women the right to vote equally.

01:50 - 01:59

Black women did not have the right to vote until the mid 1900s. And so it's a checkered past, if you will.

01:59 - 02:28

But in an election year, especially an important topic to commemorate. And so this month at Bernstein, of course, we recently had a webinar with Doris Kearns Goodwin, who was just phenomenal, talking about that importance in history. And Emily, we wanted to talk to you about some of the things that Doris had to say, but also about your story and the focus on the 19th. So why don't I let you tell us about the 19th and tell us about your vision in creating it?

02:28 - 02:55

Sure. Absolutely. So this all honestly started for me four years ago. It was the 2016 election cycle. I was a political reporter who was home on maternity leave with a baby girl. And I was looking at all these headlines around electability and likability and whether a candidate was too shrill to be president or too emotional to be president or too weak to be president. And I thought to myself, my God, it's 2016.

02:55 - 03:24

And these are still the constructs through which we're talking about women in a lot of national legacy media. And I thought to myself in that moment, wouldn't it be amazing if we had a national newsroom that was by women for women that threw out those questions about electability? Because we know that women can win and just focused on the storytelling. And then I went back to my life of postpartum depression and an infant who was covering me in spit up and dirty diapers.

03:24 - 03:49

And I didn't really think about it again, honestly, for another three years. We were heading into the 2020 election cycle. We had more women than we've ever seen before on the debate stage. And I thought to myself, look, we're dealing with the same questions all over again. It felt like a moment to me. And suddenly, I sort of I literally sat up in bed one night and was like, if this is a moment we have to do this, it needs to happen.

03:49 - 04:21

And we started fundraising and working to launch the 19th. So the 19th, which just launched a couple of weeks ago, is the country's first nonprofit and truly nonpartisan newsroom at the intersection of gender, politics, and policy. And what that really means is journalism that aims to elevate the voices and stories of women, particularly underserved women. The women you were just talking about, our logo is a 19th with an asterisk. And just what you were talking about a second ago, the 19th Amendment didn't extend to all women equally.

04:21 - 04:26

We want to take it back. We want to take this moment back for all women.

04:26 - 04:34

And we want to do it by starting with the journalism. It's fabulous. I have to just tell all of our listeners, to really direct them to your site.

04:34 - 05:07

I want to follow up with a couple of questions. First of all, so the 19th is the newsroom concept, but tell us what you're doing this month, in particular in recognition of the history of the 19th. Absolutely. So not only are we a destination news site with newsletters, breaking news stories, a 24/7 news operation, we also put on major national live events. And obviously all of these live events are virtual in this particular moment in history, unfortunately. But we're putting on our first ever women's summit this summer. It's going on this week.

05:07 - 05:14

And the focus really is to try to both commemorate the centennial of the 19th Amendment and recognize how far we have left to go.

05:14 - 05:48

So the programming has included everyone from Hillary Clinton and Stacey Abrams, Elise Stefanik, Melinda Gates to conversations with Kamala Harris, who, thank goodness, was already on the schedule for our program before Joe Biden named her his VP. It even includes a conversation with Meghan Markle, the now known as the Duchess of Sussex, who reached out to us honestly to participate, basically saying, look, in this moment in history, the things you all care about, high quality journalism, gender equity, racial justice are the things that are front and center for me.

05:48 - 05:53

So an extraordinary lineup and a lot of great archived content if you missed the programming and want to tune in.

05:54 - 06:16

Well, huge congratulations to you on your launch. It's brilliant. I've watched the videos and I haven't, I'm looking forward to really watching the summit conversations in detail next week. There are so many to choose from. And again, just really huge congratulations on a big coming out party. Right. For your launch with such incredible content.

06:16 - 06:46

So the other question I had for you on the 19th, correct me if I'm wrong here, but most news outlets are for profit organizations. In fact, are any of them nonprofit? I notice you are nonprofit, so can you talk about that choice and how that's different than what you see out there? Sure. So as we were thinking about whether the 19th is going to be a for-profit or a nonprofit, there were three deal breakers in particular for me that really pushed the needle.

06:46 - 07:00

And for that, those deal breakers were look, I believe that journalism is a public service and it ought to be free. If I'm providing a news product that elevates the voices of underserved women, I certainly don't want to create a barrier to entry for them to access it. So I want it to be free.

07:01 - 07:29

The second is we publish journalism across all of our platforms. But I also insist on making it entirely free to republish by every other news organization in the country. So the USA Today network is publishing our stories in 260 regional communities around the country. Univision is translating all of our work into Spanish and distributing it. For me, the journalism wants to be free not just for our readers, but to all of those other publications so we can reach women where they are.

07:30 - 07:37

And then the third piece for us is I want to hire an extraordinary team and give them the benefits and the opportunity that they deserve.

07:37 - 08:12

That means really generous pay in a time when this industry, particularly for-profit media, doesn't provide that and the kind of benefits that are truly unheard of in the for-profit media space. So six months of fully paid family leave for all new parents, four months of fully paid sick relative leave. So you can spend the last four months on your mom, at your mom or dad's deathbed if you need to. What we know about women in this space is that too many women get forced out of media at the moment where they become really part of that sandwich generation of trying to navigate small children at home, elderly parents.

08:13 - 08:34

And honestly, COVID has only exacerbated that challenge. So those factors combined led me to believe that this was a very successful nonprofit, but none of us were going to get rich making it. Yeah, makes a lot of sense. And again, kudos to you in providing all those benefits and having that differentiated point of view of how to get that content out there.

08:34 - 09:06

So the last question on the 19th before we pivot to talking about the 19th Amendment. On the 19th, tell us about the unique nature of your name. It's not just the 19th. Right. So we talked about this for a moment, but when we were thinking about the name, we loved the 19th, we loved the significance of the 19th Amendment, which says it extends the vote to all women. But as you mentioned, the reality is the 19th Amendment really only extended the vote to White women. It was well into the Civil Rights Movement before Black women consistently could vote.

09:06 - 09:34

And I would argue in much of the country, particularly the American South, voter suppression still keeps women of color away from the polls. And so for us, we were saying, well, so what's our name going to be? It can't just be the 19th. That doesn't point to this existing challenge. And a member of our team said, yeah, it's like the 19th Amendment, but with an asterisk, and all of us just sort of stopped immediately, that's it. It's the asterisk. And the asterisk is the lens through which we think about all of our storytelling.

09:35 - 10:01

We aren't just telling a story because there's a woman in it and we believe all issues are women's issues. So this isn't the day's news but pink. When we look at a story, when we decide whether it's a story for us, we ask ourselves out loud, what's the asterisk in the story? What is the way in which women and in particular women of color are disproportionately affected by this challenge? And that is how we decide whether it meets our bar. Awesome, makes a lot of sense.

10:01 - 10:35

Well, let's pivot to talking about the history of the 19th then, and I really appreciate you sitting down with me today and I'm glad we've been able to highlight your initiatives. And I'm also glad that you and I can effectively respond to this event that we had this week with Doris Kearns Goodwin, where, we're going to play some of the clips from that discussion, and I really look forward to your thoughts on these topics. So we'll we'll start with a couple of them. But the first one was this notion that when we put on this event celebrating the history of the 19th Amendment, we ourselves learned a lot.

10:35 - 11:07

And we all acknowledged that for the most part, we never heard this story. And again, everybody pays a different degree of attention in their history classes and history classes, of course, take on different tones across the country with different influences. But we did a survey during the webinar to ask our viewers, which were well over a thousand, how many of them really remember this history from class? And the vast majority of them said they recalled a passing reference. So that's what the survey results said.

11:07 - 11:35

So look, with those polling results and with our own gut, I asked Doris, why did she think it was that this story wasn't widely taught? So here's a clip of her response. I think the reason it wasn't widely taught is because most history was taught until these last couple of decades, really from the top down, from the heroes to the people, when really we realized that most social change in this country has come from the ground up.

11:35 - 11:50

So now you're beginning to see curriculum shift and people are studying new studies and women's studies, gay rights studies. They get PhDs, you get teachers. And the whole history teaching is coming out in a different way. But not when I was in school, that's for sure.

11:50 - 12:09

So I think that's why this anniversary celebration is really important, to just remind people of the real struggle that took place. And it always takes place from the people and then they connect to some people in power, and that's when you get the magic of policy changes. I thought that was a beautiful quote to talk about the power of the people and the ground up.

12:09 - 12:40

What are your thoughts on that? And then what surprised you the most as you learned about the movement yourself? So what I'm struck by is the parallels between the sort of patriarchal storytelling, whether it's patriarchal storytelling in history or its patriarchal storytelling in the media. I mean, the reality is what Doris was mentioning there is that the people who were setting the history text, the people who were deciding what stories ought to be told were men. And they were almost all White men. I mean, I was, in my conversation with Meghan Markle,

12:40 - 12:59

she points to the fact that the term suffragette with the ETTE at the end was coined by a British newspaper man in the early, very early 1900s, a White man who basically was trying to minimize the movement by saying it was dainty, suffragette. These, they're not suffragists, they are suffragettes.

12:59 - 13:13

And that word stuck, and one white man's worldview became the way that this sort of generation of women fighting for the right to vote were lumped, cast together and minimized.

13:13 - 13:40

And so what Doris is saying, what we're, what we still see, and how I sort of tie this to journalism in the centennial of the 19th Amendment, is we're still at a point where women's voices aren't elevated equally. And until you have women and, in particular, women of color represented in the highest ranks of those who are setting the narratives and telling the stories or our national narrative, our national understanding is going to be flawed.

13:40 - 14:05

And so, anyway, I think that's fascinating. And obviously, she's brilliant and I love hearing her take. And I'm excited we're going to get to hear some more from her. Yeah, she really was. She was just such a wonderful combination of storytelling and quotes. And she spent decades basically living these presidents' lives. So she was just a wealth of facts from each of the presidents' perspectives and how they approach different challenges.

14:05 - 14:31

And the women's movement, the suffragist movement and the 19th Amendment, really kind of wove in across the many presidents that she is truly an expert on. And so to your point, the next clip that will play from her, it's actually a really good segue, is focused on the idea of women's representation. So not surprisingly, we talked about this issue too, and just sharing some stats that we all know.

14:32 - 14:32

Right?

14:32 - 15:03

I mean, you look at what happened in 2016, almost seventy four million women voted and it was actually 10 million more than the men. So that is notable. So we talked about the fact that, yes, it's 100 years later, but you're really starting to see the influence of the women's vote. And in the midterm elections, we know women were really the driving force. Again, the majority of the votes. Yet, to your point, Emily, women still represent only one quarter of congressional seats held.

15:03 - 15:18

And that's after a big inflow of women really on both sides of the platform. And then you've already made the point around similar underrepresentation in newsrooms. So the 19th looks different, led by women and more women of color.

15:19 - 15:45

But we asked Doris for her thoughts on all of these facts. And, of course, we wove in financial services and executive teams in every space that we look. While women have made progress, we are so far from equal representation. So we asked Doris for her thoughts on this, really the evolution of women's power and what it's going to take to further close the inequality gap. So let's take a listen to her thoughts there.

15:46 - 16:07

I think the most important thing is for more and more women to get into public life. I mean, it's been a long story. Women have gotten involved now in businesses and nonprofits and universities. They're going to college more than men. They're getting law degrees more. But public life has always been a place where it's been slower for women to exert themselves. I mean, obviously, we had Eleanor in those old days.

16:07 - 16:35

It was incredible. She had the first female only press conferences. So that meant that only female journalists could come to them once a week. And a whole generation of journalists get their starts because of Eleanor. But she was an outlier. Finally, in these last decade, you've seen much, many more women go into public life. The midterm elections in 2018 elected and more women run than ever before. And they came from all different walks of life, which is the important thing, I think, in the country, that we need women's voices.

16:35 - 16:41

It's not just the diversity, it's their experiences we need. And I think they're beginning to get more involved.

16:41 - 17:16

My feeling is that if women become more active and at all levels, federal, state, local, and their universities and their businesses, just the kind of things that you guys are doing today, I think we're on a road that's it's going to be there someday very soon. I know you sat down with Melinda Gates, I think, yesterday. So I don't know if you want to weave in her remarks on this. Obviously, her opinions are very clear. The facts are staggering. What is it, that 200 plus years it's going to take us to achieve equality if we keep going at the same pace? But what are your thoughts, both in response to Doris's comments and others you've talked to this week on the topic?

17:16 - 17:17

Sure.

17:17 - 17:49

I mean, Melinda Gates is a great person to talk about there, and I'll talk about her comments in a second. But I mean, I think, look, I wish I was as optimistic as Dorothy is about where we're headed. I mean, the reality is you mentioned some of those numbers. But look at this, 7.4 percent of state legislators in this country are women of color. I mean, if you think about it like that is a staggeringly low number. And I think, yes, it's so critical to get more women involved in public policy and in governing. I think there are a lot of reasons women choose to opt out.

17:49 - 18:14

I would argue that one of the big reasons is just how disgusting campaigning has become and how every iota of your life gets combed over and poured out there for all to see with opposition research. You know, if you've got small kids at home, if you're trying to navigate your family, that's something really taxing to put yourself through. But I also think, you know, talking with Melinda Gates, it's, this is obviously a global challenge.

18:14 - 18:45

And she is so incredible in this arena and what she's devoted to it. But what I think is so fascinating about her is that she is really interested in getting more women deeply civically engaged, regardless of their party affiliation. She's pouring a lot of resources into helping women candidates get better trained, helping them figure out how to get out there, helping them figure out how to be more engaged in the electorate. And when you sort of try to take the partisan politics out of that and say, we need to lift all women up, it's a really compelling case.

18:45 - 19:09

So I think, look, we have so far to go to to achieve true equity, and this moment, this global pandemic, that's sort of a pandemic within a pandemic of race relations in this country, women are facing an unbelievable setback. This is truly the first female recession we have ever experienced. The disproportionate effects on women of this pandemic

19:09 - 19:28

and this moment may be irreparable in my lifetime, which is terrifying. Women who are choosing, how many of us know women who have forgone their careers in this moment in order to stay home and provide schooling for their own kids? This is a scary time, I think, for the advancement of gender equity.

19:28 - 19:57

So I don't feel wildly optimistic. I feel concerned. And I think there's a lot of work that needs to be done right now to ensure that the strides that women have made aren't eroded in this unbelievable time we're living through. Yeah, I agree with you. I want to be as helpful as Doris, and I think she's got longevity that we don't have. Right. That we've got one of her points of advice to us, we're going to pivot to the last clip, is really this idea around advice that she has for the younger version of herself.

19:57 - 20:31

You'll see what she has to say here. But gee, we need a lot of energy and grit and resilience to keep the fight up, because if it's anything like the suffrage movement, it took 100 years. And that, and not only were these women jailed and went on hunger strikes and encountered violence.... Progress takes a long time. And so I hear you, Emily, on the balance between optimism and reality. And I think in the fight for equality during a global pandemic in particular, I do share your concerns that women are disproportionately being hurt in this time.

20:32 - 21:01

Well, so let's listen to Doris comment on this idea. I mean, there's a couple of places we could go here. You've already mentioned it, but how the media tells your story can often drive the perception of women in the media, and obviously Kamala is front and center in that this week as we record. So I'd love to hear your comments on that, but let's listen to Doris talk about basically lessons for her younger self. And let's come back to your views.

21:02 - 21:32

I think the most important thing is to take responsibility early and to not worry about ambition. Ambition is a good thing. I mean, there's been this whole discussion now about whether women are too ambitious. That's just crazy. You never get anywhere without the drive for success. I mean, there's so many more possibilities for women right now and not be afraid of showing the ambition to take an elected position, perhaps, or to work in your community or to take responsibility, because it's always scary when you take responsibility for things.

21:32 - 21:59

But you have to in order to get to that next stage in leadership and most importantly, hoping that as you grow older, that ambition for self becomes something larger, an ambition for the team, an ambition if you're a sports person for the greater good, for the company, for the country, eventually, if you're lucky enough to be at that level. So it's a process. But you just watch women flourishing in so many areas and there are setbacks, but they're moving forward.

21:59 - 22:28

And I would love to be a young girl right now having that whole future ahead of me. Do you want to tackle this idea of ambition and how the media treats ambitious women? I'm first of all, I love that quote. And I love this idea because I feel it in my own life that you you can be an ambitious young woman and then you get to this moment and the ambition suddenly feels bigger than yourself. It feels like you've worked long and hard, but your responsibility is to something greater. And I feel that in an enormous way right now in my career.

22:28 - 22:47

So that spoke to me personally. But I think, you know, as I was mentioning about the way that Hillary Clinton was treated in the media in 2016, these sort of questions, we still saw the same stories in the last couple of weeks around the Veep stakes. And, you know, was Kamala Harris too ambitious, was Stacey Abrams angling for the job?

22:47 - 23:21

All of the framing around this storytelling was like, ick, these women are asking for something that for too long... they're supposed to be anointed, they're not supposed to gun for it, which is just preposterous. Like what time are we living in when this is still a framing or a construct of a story? So, you know, that's a big reason, honestly, the 19th exists, to get out of this myth of electability, the questions of ambition. Those aren't the stories we should be telling. So we're really excited to have the opportunity, we hope to change the national narrative for women.

23:21 - 23:45

Well, Emily, thank you so much for sitting down with me today. I'm so excited to follow the progress of the 19thnews.org, and I would really recommend our listeners go there and check out not only the virtual summit, but your ongoing daily news programming. So we wish you great further success and look forward to continuing the dialogue. Thanks for joining us. Wonderful. Thank you so much for having me. It was great to be a part of it.

23:45 - 24:10

If you enjoyed the podcast and haven't subscribed to our show, please go to Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, or wherever you listen to subscribe and rate us. You can also find us on Twitter at BernsteinPWM or find me, Beata Kirr, on LinkedIn. Bernstein: Making money meaningful for individuals, families, and foundations for over 50 years. Visit us at Bernstein.com.

Hosts
Beata Kirr
Co-Head—Investment Strategies

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