Last March I remember standing in Dr. Jennifer Le Zotte’s office at UNCW staring in wonder, awe and confoundment at her collection of contraception of yesteryear, peddled to women in the last 100 years. It was all a part of an exhibit of birth control in North Carolina as part of the “She Rocks the Vote” at UNCW’s Randall Library, which was postponed due to COVID.
The Lysol douche stands out in memory above all: The glass measuring receptacle resting in a rusted copper-toned stand, and just at the bottom, a douche nozzle peeped through. The display was complete with a small, empty glass bottle of Lysol next to it.
Joined by humanities librarian Lisa Coats, we were comparing the circumstances and misguidance of those times to the looming COVID pandemic.
“One direct parallel I see are in news stories about people spraying their children with Lysol in order to prevent coronavirus,” Le Zotte said at the time, “which is not the wisest way to do so and not medically advised. . . . Yes, Lysol kills germs but it also kills good germs and good bacteria and there are proper ways of using medical equipment.”
There’s a laundry list of misinformation to have circulated since then, too—much of which has come from the White House. This leads me to another point of the event: votes matter.
Spearheaded by Coats and Le Zotte, assistant professor of U.S. history and material culture, “She Rocks the Vote” was meant to help celebrate Women’s History Month and encompass a history of birth control in North Carolina. Now rescheduled as a virtual event, “She Rocks the Vote” will commence this Thursday, September 17 at 5 p.m. and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment.
“We are hoping to do a physical exhibit of the birth control items at some point when it is feasible again,” Coats updates.
Until then the livestream event includes the “Women Who Changed the World” exhibit, located on the second floor of Randall Library. Christopher Robinson, Outreach and Engagement Librarian, and undergraduate biology student, Alexa Blair, will present.
“The history [of birth control] exhibit will be discussing eugenics and sterilization in North Carolina,” Coats adds. “There will be a ‘timeline’ during Dr. Le Zotte and her graduate students’ portion that will outline the history of eugenics in NC and highlight some personal stories of women sterilized unknowingly during that time. They will also include the items [we had in] March, as well as other physical items that were to be on display in the Library but will now be a part of this virtual exhibit.”
While not specifically about political control of women, “She Rocks the Vote” connects political issues with women’s health. Its themes surrounding women’s history, health, voting rights, suffrage and feminism remain timeless. They’re relevant to what we as a nation are experiencing right now amid an election season and public health crisis.
With the exhibit’s broadly aligned theme of women in politics, Rep. Deb Butler will speak to help tie the importance of civic engagement as it relates to women’s health and reproductive rights. Butler, who has been endorsed by Lillian’s List for a number of years, is running for re-election this fall.