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Ellen Goodman and Lynn Sherr team up for a podcast about women voters and the power of persistence

Ellen Goodman
Ellen Goodman

Ellen Goodman and Lynn Sherr are veteran journalists and longtime friends who have spent their ceiling-crashing careers chronicling social change and its impact on American life. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Goodman was a longtime Boston Globe and syndicated columnist. Sherr is an award-winning author and former longtime ABC News correspondent. Now they’ve teamed up as cohosts of a new podcast called “She Votes!” that digs into the complex history of the women’s suffrage movement. It marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment being ratified, and explores its relevance and importance today.

The eight-part series premieres Wednesday on Wonder Media Network.

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Q. How long have you known each other?

EG: Fifty years. Ann Blackman, a former Globe reporter who went to the AP, said to Lynn, “You have to meet my friend Ellen Goodman because you’re the same person.”

Lynn Sherr
Lynn SherrSTEVE FENN/ABC

LS: We grew up in our careers doing very much the same thing, sometimes competing, sometimes on parallel tracks. In terms of our journalism and our feminism, we were on the same page. We completely bonded.

Q. Where did the podcast idea come from?

LS: In 2018 Ellen came up with the idea of a podcast celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage. It would be ready for the year that women’s votes might make all the difference in the 2020 election. I didn’t have a clue what a podcast involved. We learned it’s a huge amount of work with a very interesting learning curve. And a huge amount of fun.

EG: I was really interested in trying another medium. I think it’s important as you get older to keep trying new things.

Q. Why do you say women’s votes might make all the difference in the 2020 election?

LS: It looks as if this might be a big gender gap year. Polls indicate the women’s vote is going strongly against [President] Trump and for [Joe] Biden. I believe this is the year of the Angry Mom. So many people out there — mothers, granddaughters, daughters — standing up and protesting policies that have separated families, imprisoned children, taken the lives of unarmed citizens.

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EG: The fact that Biden said he’ll choose a woman to be vice president is so far beyond the tokenism of the past. He knows how important it is to have diversity on the ticket. Women are much more concerned about the effects of the coronavirus, about kids not being in school, about its impact on the health of their parents. They are much more aware that the person in charge of the country is irresponsible. This has caused a subtle but very real change in political attitudes.

Q. What pivotal moments in the women’s battle for the vote did you build episodes around?

LS: We used to joke that college world history courses went from Rome to Roosevelt. Call this Anti-Slavery to Voter Protection. Fighting for abolition, women recognized their own status as second-class citizens. Fighting for the vote, they saw the intransigence of white men in power. In 1872 Susan B. Anthony was arrested for the crime of voting while female. In 1920 that “crime” became a right. And still, the battle for the ballot continues.

EG: We tell stories about women you probably do know like Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth but also people you absolutely do not know. One was the wonderful discovery of Alice Duer Miller, a columnist in the early part of the 20th century who wrote a fabulous, sarcastic column in poetry form for the New York Tribune often calling out the politicians of the time.

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LS: One of her poems is a conversation between a little girl and her mother. Ready, Ellen?

EG: “Mother, what is a Feminist?”

“A Feminist, my daughter,

Is any woman now who cares

To think about her own affairs

LS and EG: As men don’t think she oughter!”

Q. What is the through-line in the podcast?

EG: Persistence. We see three generations of women and their persistence in pursuing justice, and the opposition of people in power about sharing it. When Mitch McConnell accused Elizabeth Warren of persisting, women took it as a badge of honor. That is a badge of honor we inherited from the suffragists.

LS: I would add that women are not a monolith. I think it’s really important to remember that you cannot expect women to vote as a monolith because we don’t vote based on our ovaries or plumbing. Women working for suffrage had many different points of view and used many different tactics.

EG: One historian we talked to, Paula Giddings, said: If you understand the history of suffrage, you understand America. It tells the story of race and gender and power and politics. I think she means that the arc of justice moves very slowly, with race relations and gender relations — all of it. It plays out in the story of suffrage.

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Q. What issues still engage and enrage you?

EG: I’m gobsmacked by the way this president has taken the country down. Whether we’re talking about the virus or the inequality of race relations, the willingness of this administration to watch the country go into the dumper is stunning to me.

LS: I’m a New Yorker and I’ve known Donald Trump personally and as a New Yorker for a lot of years. I would never have voted for him to be dogcatcher. I apologize if I sound like a preacher, or high falutin, but the disdain for truth in our daily conversation and our institutions is terrifying. And hand in hand with this goes the concept of hypocrisy. Republicans in Congress saying one thing and doing another is repulsive to me. I can’t wait to get rid of all of them.

Linda Matchan can be reached at lindamatchan@gmail.com