They were tireless organizers. Tenacious fighters. And political geniuses. They were Black and Latinx. Indigenous and immigrant. Together, they helped women win the right to vote and laid the cornerstone for gender equality in the United States. Yet their stories are not as well known as they should be.
The New York Times has commissioned “Finish the Fight,” a new production in which the acclaimed playwright Ming Peiffer (“Usual Girls”), the 2020 Obie-winning director Whitney White (“Our Dear Dead Drug Lord,” “What to Send Up When It Goes Down”) and a cast of celebrated actresses bring to theatrical life the biographies of lesser-known activists who helped to win voting rights for women. The play adapts the forthcoming book “Finish the Fight!: The Brave and Revolutionary Women Who Fought for the Right to Vote,” written by Veronica Chambers, a Times senior editor, and the Times journalists Jenny Schuessler, Amisha Padnani, Jennifer Harlan, Sandra Garcia and Vivian Wang.
“Finish the Fight” premieres at 7 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, August 18, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment. The performance is available for free to viewers who R.S.V.P. in advance.
The play goes beyond familiar figures like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to shine light on the Black, Asian, Latinx, Native American and queer women who were at the forefront of the suffrage movement in the United States. Though the theatrical retelling includes invented scenes and imagined conversations among five women — the events of their lives, and their accomplishments, are real.
In this world premiere, Leah Lewis (“The Half of It,” “Nancy Drew”) plays Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, a Chinese suffragist; Q’orianka Kilcher (“The Alienist”) portrays Zitkála-Šá, a Yankton Sioux writer, artist, educator and activist; Chelsea Rendon (“Shameless,” “Vida”) plays Jovita Idár, a journalist and activist who fought on behalf of Mexican-Americans and women; and Zora Howard (“Premature”) plays Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, an abolitionist who helped to establish the National Association of Colored Women and was the first African-American to have a short story published in the United States. The Broadway actress Harriett D. Foy will play Mary McLeod Bethune, the influential activist for women’s rights and civil rights.
“The way we talk about suffrage needs attention,” Kate Clarke Lemay, a historian and curator at the National Portrait Gallery, has said. “It is so often described in a way that makes it seem kind of dowdy and dour — whereas in fact it is exciting and radical. Women staged one of the longest social reform movements in the history of the United States. This is not a boring history of nagging spinsters; it is a badass history of revolution staged by political geniuses. I think that because they were women, people have hesitated to credit them as such.”
“Finish the Fight” will be an evening of historical theater meant to remind us what powerhouses the women of the suffrage movement truly were.