“The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.
“Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
19th Amendment to the Constitution, passed on May 21st, 1919 and ratified on
August 18th, 1920.
These words were repeated thousands of times, in the more than 70 year fight for Women’s Suffrage. The rights of women are very near and dear to my heart, being a woman and all. I consider myself lucky to be alive at a time when I have the right to be as educated and outspoken as I wish to be. While growing up, my mother always let me know that I could be anything that I set my mind to. An idea that has grown more true as “glass ceilings” shadder throughout our society. Living life through the lens of the early 21st century, it is sometimes hard for me to conceptualize that women received the right to vote only 60 years before I was born. In the 1800’s it was extremely rare for Women to be educated, there were no enforced domestic abuse laws, no property rights for women and no rights to their own children. The term Domestic Violence did not enter United States vernacular until 1973. Even the clothing that Women wore was restrictive and meant to maintain the social order of chastity and subservience, essentially physical
bondage. Amelia Bloomer, publisher/editor of The Lily a Women’s newspaper from the mid 1800’s, was one of the first Women to change fashion for the purpose of ease of movement, hence the Bloomer. The fashion she wore consisted of a ¾ length dress and ankle length pants. Women’s functional fashion would also come to influence the women’s rights movement again in the late 1800’s and the rise of the bicycle. At the time the hoop skirt was common, which restricted the movement of women’s legs and made it almost impossible to ride a bike. An unassuming technology, the bike, yet it may have inadvertently changed the station of Women in America, creating independent transportation for Women and influenced fashion to be less restrictive, in effect allowing Women out of physical and mental bondage.
The National drive for Women’s rights and equality was started through moral conversations within religious communities, the most outspoken of which was the Quakers and Lucretia Mott who was a Quaker minister herself. Lucretia was educated and influenced by Mary Wollstonecraft, she wrote arguably the first book on Women’s rights, from 1792, Vindication of the Rights of Woman. By the early 1800’s the Quaker
religion was already a progressive religious order, encouraging parishioners that they had a direct connection with God, did not allow monetary reimbursement for Ministerial services, encouraged female education through Quaker schools and even allowed Women to be ministers themselves. They would play an integral part in both abolition and Women’s rights The women’s rights movement throughout the ages whether labeled; suffrage, rights, or equality were often commingled and fueled by other issues prevalent in society at the time. With the Suffrage movement, most Women and Men that would become leaders like; Lucretia Mott and the Hicksite Quakers, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass were first involved in the abolitionist movement. They soon found a direct correlation between abolition and the rights of Women to become full citizens. Eventually there would become a split, particularly with Fredrick Douglas, when the vote for the 15th Amendment came about, many of the Women wanted the inclusion of sex to the statement, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But others believed that if they pushed for the inclusion of Women in the right to vote that the Amendment would not pass congress. This would precipitate a split and the formation of the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA). It would end up being another 50 years before Women were guaranteed the same rights as African American men.
Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton realized that they needed to form a convention for Women’s rights after being denied a seat at the international abolitionist convention in England, and the idea of the Seneca Falls Women’s Convention was born, some believe the true beginning to the Women’s rights movement in the United States. At the Convention the Declaration of Sentiments was voted on and ratified, based on the Declaration of Independence, the document lives on today as the embodiment of Women’s Suffrage. In the Encyclopedia of Women in American History they state, “Holding its first convention in 1848, at Seneca Falls, New York, the Women’s Rights Movement demanded rights such as property rights in marriage, more liberal divorce laws, and the right to vote.” It is interesting to note that they were not asking for the right of all Women to property, but the right of married Women to property.
The argument for denying Women the right to vote in the 1800’s, and through time, has been that Women were considered the moral backbone of the family unit, the idea of social spheres. Women needed to play this part, so that the men could be free to do as they please yet still claim moral purity. If the government were to open voting rights to Women, they may become corrupted by the dirty business of politics and who would uphold the moral compass. This idea of Women being the moral backbone of the US family still shows today with the majority of people calling Senators and Representatives about the state of Healthcare in our society being Women, in defence of their families. The women often claim that access to Healthcare is a moral imperative, much like the argument for the abolition of slavery in the 19th century and the Women’s right to vote.
The fight for Women’s vote took 70 years to materialize and the dedication of generations of Women. Each generation built a foundation piece by piece, the earliest suffragist secured Women’s education, rights within the marriage and maternal rights to children. To think, women first got the opportunity for education just 150 years, or so ago. With real substantial, across the board educational opportunities coming in the mid 20th century. The later suffragist, in the turn of the century secured our right to vote. This second incantation of Women’s rights was also intermingled with the Temperance movement and later the repeal of Prohibition. Much like the earlier Suffragist, who were connected to Abolition as well as Temperance, they were often also fighting for temperance and had a big impact on the passage of the 18th amendment and prohibition. The suffragists were also quintessential to the passage of the repeal of prohibition and the passage of the 21st Amendment. Due to the moral bankruptcy and the rise of organized crime.
At this time there was another split in the movement for Women’s rights and the formation of the National Women’s Party (NWP), lead by Alice Paul. This wing would become a more militant arm of the movement. There is a great dramatic rendition of Alice Paul and the NWP called, Iron Jawed Angels, a HBO production starring Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston. The National Women’s Party would go on to hold the first Women’s parade, picket the White House, continuing even when Woodrow Wilson entered WWI, be jailed, beaten and eventually go on a hunger strike. Through the militancy of the NWP and the government lobbying by the old guard, National American Women’s Suffrage Association, Woodrow Wilson finally relented and encouraged congress to pass the 19th Amendment. Where it did on June 4th 1919 by a vote of 56-25 and two votes to spare. There is a wonderful book, The Woman’s Hour, the Great Fight to Win the Vote by Elaine Weiss, that goes into great detail about the states ratifying the 19th Amendment and particularly the push for the last state Tennessee.
These opportunities did not happen in a vacuum or without the aid of some culture shifting and defying women and men. Next year and into 2020, we will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote. The National Archives is working towards an exhibit for the momentous occasion showcasing those throughout our history that made it happen.
Our fight has not ended when Women received the right to vote, the feminist of the 60’s and 70’s, saw that, though Women had the vote we were still marginalized in society. With no real protections from violent husbands, an economic gap, consistent schooling across the sex divide, Birth Control and the right to choice over decisions concerning your own body. In this era we saw once again the commingling of social struggle, this time within Women’s rights and Civil rights, as well as the anti-war movement. Books have often had a catalyst effect on social movements and the 60’s Women rights movement saw that with The feminine mystique / by Betty Friedan. It quickly became the Feminist calling card and moved Women to fight once again.
This brings us to today, and a fight for equal pay, paid maternity/family leave and sexual abuse. When Elizabeth Cady Stanton was fighting for women to be allowed in education the idea of standing for up the end of domestic violence or rape was unthinkable, it would be 125 years from the Women’s Convention until the term Domestic Violence was first used. Today we are having real conversations about the role of Women in the workforce and what that means in the face of Sexual Harassment. The #metoo movement has spread throughout social media. It has brought attention to the reality that one in four Women in America have been sexually assaulted at some point in their life by putting a face, and possibly a close face, to the struggle. We have also seen the rise of Women in Science and the Women’s March to bring light to the very real struggles of Women and the working poor.
Like I said at the beginning, I am so very thankful to have been born when I was. But most of all I am thankful to all the Women that came before me and paved the way to the rights that I enjoy today. I will make a promise to them, and my mother, I will never take those rights for granted, I will try to live up to the best of my potential and I will continue to stand for those that can and can not. #metoo
We have some great material in the Fontana Regional Library System and our partner libraries.
Here are some links to those resources and a list of favorite female authors, curated by the staff of the Jackson County Public Library, I hope that you enjoy!
Videos from the catalog:
Iron Jawed Angels -HBO films released, starring Hilary Swank and Anjelica Huston.
Dramatization of the NWP, and the run up to the passage of the 19th Amendment
One Woman One Vote, by American Experience PBS
Always a good resource for Documentary films, check out the PBS series, Makers: Women Who Make America
Female Authors for Adults:
Anna Politkovskaya – Activist from Russia
Pam Duncan- Local Author
Doris Kearns Goodwin
Hilary Mantel – Dark comedy and Historical Fiction
Margaret Atwood – Dystopia, Short Stories and Poetry, Canadian Author
Karen Kingsbury – Modern Christian Fiction
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl
Ursula Le Guin- Science Fiction
Agatha Christie -Murder Mystery
Louise Penny -“mysteries,” but characters drawn with subtlety and complexity
Laurel Thatcher Ulrich – a feminist scholar of early American history (Great history of early midwifery)
Carol Gilligan -In a Different Voice, is a slim and accessible book about typically female vs typically male speech patterns. Feminist Social Scientist
Female Authors for all ages:
Laurie Halse Anderson – Speak, should be required reading for all high schoolers (more for teenagers)
Jk Rowling – well dah
Judy Blume – the best!
Wanda Mills– Jackson Counties very own will be sharing some short stories at the Jackson County Public Library on Thursday, March 29th at 6:30 pm