By Kathie Haynes
I am afraid I have not even given it a lot of thought. If you have a nice house, a friendly family, good food and pretty nice clothing it is normal to take it all for granted.
I watched a PBS “American Experience” about the 19th Amendment this week and it really spoke to me. We called ourselves a democracy while only half of the white population had the right to vote and most of the non-white. Equality, liberty and political freedom come with the vote.
In other words “The VOTE equals POWER!” Voting has always been important to me but I didn’t really appreciate how it came to be. The 19th Amendment allows American women full voting rights. I had no idea it took almost 80 years to pass the Amendment. A word that is often used is that women were “given” the vote. Believe me “given” is not correct. Women fought for the vote for many years.
1848 is considered the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. In the 1850s a strong alliance was formed with the Abolitionist Movement, and in 1851 Sojourner Truth, a former slave, delivered a memorable speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?”
In 1866 Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony formed the American Equal Rights Assoc. dedicated to suffrage for all regardless of gender or race. In 1872 Susan cast a ballot in the Presidential election and was arrested. Fifteen other women were arrested for voting.
In 1871 an Anti-Suffrage Party is founded. By 1911 the members in the National Assoc. opposed to Suffrage included many wealthy women, distillers and brewers, urban political machines, many clergymen and Southern congressmen.
The thinking was that the majority of women didn’t really want to vote. The antiquated concept of “male protection” meant women were supposed to take care of the home and children and they didn’t have time to vote or care about politics. There was even the notion that women were mentally inferior in constitution and temperament and unfit to vote. The men in their lives could actually represent the political will of the women.
In 1917 picketers appeared in front of the White House. They were eventually arrested and sentenced up to six months in jail. Alice Paul, a leader of the National Party, was put in solitary confinement. She began a hunger strike and was painfully force fed!
Interestingly, many of the Western states granted women suffrage. In 1890 Wyoming, 1893 Colorado, 1896 Utah and Idaho, 1910 Washington, 1912 Oregon, Kansas and Arizona, 1914 Nevada and Montana, 1918 Michigan, South Dakota and Oklahoma.
Other good things began to happen. Theodore Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party supported woman’s suffrage, Jeannette Rankin of Montana was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives, and in 1918 President Wilson supported the suffrage as a war measure.
Interestingly, it was the First World War that helped the women’s suffrage movement. Because women had to enter the work world doing men’s work it became evident that they were not inferior.
Unfortunately before 1965, women such as African Americans and Native Americans were disenfranchised. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 finally prohibited racial discrimination in voting.
Yes, the 19th Amendment helped millions of women move closer to equality in many aspects of life such as job opportunities, fairer wages, education, birth control, etc. On August 26, 1920 American Women win full voting rights!!
(P.S. My husband who is a Presbyterian clergy wants me to include a piece of history which is important to him. In 1920 the National Presbyterian Church approved the ordination of women to be ordained as Elders in the church. Interestingly, in 1979 he was serving the very first church that approved the ordination of women back in 1920.)