ANGELICA, NY — Rusty Tobin has plenty of experience in facilitating academic conversations, but the COVID-19 crisis has forced her to improvise.    

Tobin, who is affiliated with Empire State College, facilitates the four-part monthly Votes For Women! 19th Amendment Book Club, which began in February.

Due to pandemic precautions, the club met only once in person — in February — at the scheduled site, the Angelica Grange Hall. In March, the group met via phone conferencing and plans to do the same on April 30 when it discusses “Women Will Vote: Winning Suffrage in New York State” by Karen Pastorello and Susan Goodier. To join the April discussion, participants can call 515-606-5713 a few moments before 6 p.m. and use access code 498139 followed by #.   

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“It’s interesting with the pandemic, how people that are really afraid of technology are starting to plug in more and more,” Tobin said. “Everybody’s trying new things, and I think that’s the same with the book club.” 

Phone conferencing does come with restrictions, according to Tobin. 

“I wasn’t able to present as much material as I had wanted to,” Tobin said. “In our face-to-face meeting, I had given out hand-outs.”

Still, Tobin believes the meetings to be beneficial for the club’s participants. 

“As restrictive as it is, you’re getting in contact with people, and you’re able to focus on something besides the bad news,” Tobin said. 

Club participant Sheila Kalkbrenner of Wellsville agreed that problems exist with conferencing but that it has benefits despite issues.

“The phone conferences can get a bit confusing because you don't know who is speaking, and it's easy to accidentally interrupt when somebody is starting to speak,” Kalkbrenner said. “But it’s better than not ‘meeting’ at all.”

Another participant, Janis Carson of Belmont, had similar sentiments.

“I had not personally ever done a phone conference like that," Carson said. "It was just a little awkward at first, but once we got used to interrupting each other, it was quite enjoyable. Rusty made it run very smoothly.”  

The book club is planning an in-person final session May 28 at 6 p.m. in the Angelica Free Library, 55 W. Main St. The book will be “A Woman’s Crusade: Alice Paul and the Battle for the Ballot” by Mary Walton. 

That final book club event will include a suffrage tea served by the Catherine Schuyler Chapter of the D.A.R. and a dramatic portrayal of Susan B. Anthony in the library’s assembly hall.

Humanities NY partially funded the program with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Anyone wishing to read the books and join the discussions can borrow copies by calling 585-466-5031 or by emailing 19thbookclub@gmail.com. 

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