How did a pandemic almost stop U.S. women's right to vote?

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By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor

As a young student, I learned about the struggle for American women to get the right to vote, their thin margin of success after a long political battle, and the vehement opposition to the enfranchisement of African American women.

I didn’t know that a pandemic almost derailed seven decades of work.

The 1918 flu roared in two big waves, taking the lives of more than 675,000 Americans. Public events were canceled. Social distancing prevented the mass rallies women were depending upon, and halted their protests from congressional galleries. Votes were scheduled by the Senate, then postponed. One leading suffrage supporter died; another, Carrie Chapman Catt (pictured above), was grounded as she battled the flu.

How did women triumph? By expanding their grassroots campaign, volunteering on the front lines fighting the pandemic (pictured below), and adept political organizing to elect congressional leaders supportive of their cause, Ellen Carol DuBois writes for Nat Geo. All that, and a heart-stopping drive to get the amendment approved by 36 states.

More than 100 years later, America is again living through a pandemic, but the work of the suffragists provides a blueprint for navigating the political landscape and exercising the vote in these dark, uncertain times.

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Volunteer nurses care for the sick from the 1918 Spanish flu in an auditorium that had been transformed into a temporary hospital in Oakland.

Instagram photo of the day

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In the still of the evening: As golden hour sets in, three monks walk through the ancient prang, or towerlike spires, of Ayutthaya, Thailand. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, these ruins made up Thailand's historical capital of the Siamese kingdom from 1350 until 1767.

Subscriber exclusive: The struggle for the soul of a divided kingdom

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Today in a minute

All that? Hundreds of thousands of children across malaria-stricken regions of Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana are receiving the new RTS,S malaria vaccine, which Western health experts laud as an exciting new tool in the global fight against the disease. Jacob Kushner, writing for Nat Geo, talked with African health professionals about the rollout, after 35 years and hundreds of millions of dollars spent in development. Their big question: Is the vaccine worth the cost?

Followup: Six years after their capture by Boko Haram rebels in Nigeria, a group of the schoolgirls had been studying in a college prep program. Now they face new obstacles, Nat Geo’s Nina Strochlic reports. They’ve had to return to their remote villages and endure lockdown after the coronavirus pandemic forced the shutdown of their campus. Also unnerving: Attacks by the Boko Haram militants in their region are again on the rise.

VE Day: Because of the coronavirus pandemic, many planned celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe have been canceled or postponed from May 8 until mid-August to coincide with the anniversary of the Allied victory over Japan. In the meantime, some residents of the United Kingdom are planning a virtual house party to celebrate. Residents of other nations are also adjusting (the day is celebrated in France as Victoire, in Slovakia as Victory Over Fascism Day, and in Norway as Liberation Day).

Your turn: We've been inspired by stories of resilience from those who lived through World War II. Ahead of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, we want to hear from you on your family's stories of resilience. Simply write us here or post your images or mini-stories on social media with the #storiesofresilience hashtag.

The big takeaway

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Why so unequal? In Albany, Georgia, a whopping 90 percent of those who’ve died of COVID-19 complications have been African Americans. That’s a dramatic illustration of a general truth as the pandemic sweeps through the U.S.—a stark disparity (and over-representation) of African Americans’ among those infected and dying. “People are either in shock or kind of numb,” said Demetrius Young, an Albany city commissioner. Rodney A. Brooks, writing for Nat Geo, finds several factors are at play: the environments where most African Americans live, how they are treated by the medical establishment, the presence of underlying health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and the jobs many have (pictured above: a McDonalds cashier behind a glass partition in Brooklyn).

In a few words

Overheard at Nat Geo

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'I’m a disaster scientist, basically.’ That’s geoarchaeologist Beverly Goodman talking. She excavates coastlines to understand erosion, past tsunamis, and other past disasters. She’s also seeking clues to prevent future catastrophe. Goodman, a National Geographic Explorer, is featured on an episode of our Overheard podcast. Listen to it here.

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The last glimpse

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Hide. Deny. Find a scapegoat. That was the formula California officials used when the bubonic plague hit U.S. shores in 1900. For two years, officials hid the news. Business interests didn’t want the people to know either. When the news got out, officials tried to say it was limited to San Francisco’s Chinese community. But it wasn’t. A courageous health official was punished for telling the truth. A century later, he was praised as a “forgotten forefather” of public health, by Dr. Anthony Fauci. (Above, rat dissections, which were a primary way in the early 20th century of tracking the spread of bubonic plague.)

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse and Eslah Attar selected the photos. Have an idea or a link for us? We'd love to hear from you at . Stay safe and healthy.