Why Women Should Suffer… er… vote

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Not so very long ago in a country that I live in, women couldn’t vote. The thought was simple, the husband was the spokesman for his household, and conducted business in the family name. The right to vote was considered to be a household right. That’s what 9th-grade US History taught me.

According to Wikipedia, the term women’s suffrage refers to the economic and political reform movement aimed at extending suffrage — the right to vote — to women.

In the United States of America, the State of Wyoming was the first state to grant women’s suffrage, in 1869, and reflects the fact in their state motto: “Equal Rights.” Utah was soon to follow in 1870, although Utah women were disenfranchised by provisions of the federal Edmunds-Tucker Act enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1887. Part of the reasoning to grant Utah women’s suffrage was partially fueled by the belief that, given the right to vote, Utah women would dispose of polygamy. Ironically, the opposite happened: Utah women exercised their suffrage rights in favor of polygamy, which led the U.S. Congress to disenfranchise Utah women.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming had enfranchised women after effort by the suffrage associations at the state level.

National women’s suffrage, however, did not exist until 1920. During the beginning of the twentieth century, as women’s suffrage gained in popularity, suffragists were subject to arrests and many were jailed. Finally, President Woodrow Wilson urged Congress to pass what became, when it was ratified in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment. Today the Center for American Women and Politics keeps alive the push for more women to continue to participate in government.

clip_image001That’s what Wikipedia and the text-books tell us, but what about the story behind the story?

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; it wasn’t all that long ago.

The following comes from an unsolicited email that I received and its contents carry with it the bias of the original author (whomever that was), but I feel it’s worth repeating here for you.

It was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the [Federal] polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed
clip_image002nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

Lucy Burns
By the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of
‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.’ They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, Dora Lewissmashed her
head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging,
beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.
Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote.

Alice PaulFor weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their
food – all of it colorless slop – was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press. http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/prisoners.pdf

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because – why, exactly?

  • We have carpool duties?
  • We have to get to work?
  • Our vote doesn’t matter?
  • It’s raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie Iron Jawed Angels. It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling
booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.
Sometimes it was inconvenient. My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history,
saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. “One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,” she said. “What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.

The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her all over again.
H
BO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in
their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think
a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

So, back to my editorial, remember when you vote, don’t listen to what others say, don’t vote the way Oprah tells you. Do your research, find out what candidates support your opinions and will fight for things that you feel are important, and vote for that person.

Don’t vote for someone because they’re simply the member of the party that you’re affiliated with, or vote against the person that’s not affiliated with your party. Vote for the candidate that you want to win.

Don’t vote for the candidate that you think is going to win, vote for the candidate that you want to win.

Don’t vote for someone because they’re black, or half-black, or white, or a “war hero”, or a movie star, or because their running-mate is a woman, vote for someone because they are the one that you want to win.

If you’re not involved enough to have an opinion or to know what’s going on in the country and the world today, do us all a favor: don’t vote. If you haven’t taken the time to research the issues from several sources: don’t vote. If your opinions are formed by the mass media, or by any day-time talk-show-host or –hostess, and you haven’t validated their sources and formed your own opinion: don’t vote.

The suffragist women knew the issues. The suffragist women stood up for what they thought was right. Going along with the crowd, or just voting because “Oprah says” it’s important is an insult to our grandmothers who stood up for YOUR rights and convinced a nation – and the free world – that every voice is important.

Don’t just sit there, learn about the issues, learn about the candidates, register to vote, and make a difference in the up-coming election.

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