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Celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote

My Opinion
Celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote
Celebrating 100 years of women’s right to vote
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell
Stephanie Taylor Ferriell, Senior Staff Writer, [email protected]

I have only missed voting in one election since I became eligible to cast a ballot 32 years ago. I shouldn’t have missed that one, not with the ease of early voting available today. I don’t plan to miss any more.

The right to vote — especially women’s right — is something that should be embraced by every American. Voting is not just a right, it’s a responsibility. How can we say we have a government “by the people” if the majority of the people don’t take part in choosing their leaders?

It drives me to distraction to hear someone say, “I’m just not into politics.” Or, the old saw, “My vote won’t make any difference any way, so why bother?” The latter has been disproved in numerous elections through the years. Every vote matters, and every vote counts. The first statement is a lame excuse. You have a responsibility to educate yourself, to learn about the issues and what the candidates are saying, then to vote, guided by both your heart and your head.

Tomorrow marks the 100-year anniversary of Indiana ratifying the 19th Amendment, which became part of the Constitution in August 1919. The 19th Amendment states: “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 sex.”

The road to voting rights for women was a very long and rocky one.

When our country was founded, white men exclusively held the power. Our laws were made by one-half of our population, and the perspective of the other half was rarely, if ever, considered. Women were viewed as weaker in both physical strength and intellect.

The “fairer sex,” it was commonly believed, was not suited to the turmoil, contention and bitterness so common in political activities. Believe it or not, that statement wasn’t just uttered by men. Prior to the amendment, there were nearly as many anti-suffrage groups as those fighting for the right. Some of these groups were organized by women. There was even a pamphlet circulated: “Ten Reasons Why The Great Majority Of Women Do Not Want The Ballot.” The above statement was one of the reasons listed.

According to the website for the National Women’s History Museum, the suffrage movement began in 1840 when Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were barred from attending the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London. They did not just quietly go back home “where they belonged.” They got mad. They channeled their anger by holding a Women’s Rights Convention in the United States.

Stanton presented “The Declaration of Sentiments,” which expanded the Declaration of Independence by adding “woman” or “women” throughout.

Stanton was a polarizing figure as she called for huge changes — shocking at the time — as she yearned to elevate women’s place in society and see them realize rights equal to those of men. At that time, women had very little control over their destinies; men managed their wages, their property … their entire lives, really.

Stanton met Susan B. Anthony in 1851, and the two began a collaboration that furthered the movement dramatically. Sadly, Stanton died in 1902, 18 years before women gained the right to vote.

It took almost a century — this was nearly a 100-year struggle — for women to gain the right to vote. In 1878, Sen. Aaron Sargent of California formally introduced a constitutional amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote. The bill languished in committee until 1887 when it finally went to a vote. Unsurprisingly, it was defeated. It was 1914 before another amendment was considered — and once again rejected — by the Senate.

However, women in some states were afforded the right to vote before the 19th Amendment was ratified. According to the Action Institute, unmarried women in New Jersey were allowed to vote from 1797 to 1807. In 1869, the Wyoming territory became the first territorial government to allow women to vote. By 1920, women had complete voting rights in 15 states and could vote for president in 28 states.

The approval of 36 states was needed to ratify the amendment. Tennessee was the final one of the initial 36, ratifying the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, giving women the right to vote in the United States.

One of the most depressing aspects of this history is how long it took eight states to ratify the 19th Amendment. We’re talking decades. Maryland — which I would’ve believed would have been progressive in this regard — didn’t come on board until 1941. Virginia ratified the amendment in 1952 and Alabama in 1953. Florida did so in 1969, but it was not certified until 1973. Georgia and Louisiana didn’t move forward until 1970, followed by North Carolina in 1971. Mississippi brought up the tail end, finally ratifying the 19th Amendment in 1984.

While women had the right to vote as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution in those states, their states refused to formally recognize it. That’s sad.

Earning the right to vote (it should not have had to be earned, but that’s how it was) was a dangerous, arduous road. These brave women suffered beatings, sexual assault, imprisonment and forced feedings when they went on hunger strikes.

Nov. 14, 1917, came to be known as “The Night of Terror.” That was when 33 suffragists, among them Dorothy Day, noted journalist and social activist, were arrested and beaten after peacefully demonstrating in front of the White House, then occupied by Woodrow Wilson.

The suffrage movement was brutal and ugly. It took a long time. It required generations of brave women to embrace this noble fight, to stay the course, to refuse to back down. And, in the end, the so-called fairer sex did, indeed, prevail. They did it not only for themselves, but for their daughters and granddaughters and for generations to come. They did it for me and for you.

We should all pay homage to their efforts by participating in each election. The memory of these women deserve no less.