Standing with the Courageous at Seneca Falls, NY Women’s Rights National Historical Park
In less than four years, we in the US will celebrate the centennial of women winning the right to vote. I wish I had been able to ask my grandmothers what they felt the first time they could cast their votes in 1920. Since first reading the biographies of our American suffragists, I have been fascinated by the stories of their willingness to sacrifice great time and trials, many of them working for decades, to push a boulder up a mountain for the right to vote. Many of them did not live long enough to vote themselves but wanted women in the future to have rights they were denied.
I hope you will identify or create celebrations in your own communities to honor this glorious marking of significance in some special way. For inspiration to get started, please see this anonymous blog post below. If you know who should be credited for it, please let me know.
And please study the positions of your candidates and VOTE!
The following photo essay appeared several years ago, without authorship credit attached. It is still timely. How far have we come since these photographs?
Blessings and EarthPeace, Joyce
*Other recommended films and resources can be found following the essay.
WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE
This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And 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, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, 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.
For 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.
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.’
HBO 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.’
Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.
We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women.
History is being made.
Films and video:
Iron-Jawed Angels, HBO films
The Suffragette Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep
Forward Into Light, Inez Millholland martyr suffragist, new film http://inezmilholland.org/
Standing on the Shoulders of Courageous Women music video
The Perfect 36, Tennessee Delivers Woman Suffrage the dramatic story of Tennessee’s struggle to ratify the 19th Amendment, reaching the required number of states for women’s suffrage to become federal law. Book and video www.theperfect36.com
Websites for Centennial events and resources:
National Women’s History Project, www.NWHP.org for lots of information and great resources, including for Women’s Equality Day