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Inez Milholland - Suffrage parade

We Are So Blessed

It’s the season of civic responsibility again.

Ellie and I wage an ongoing battle against helplessness.  No matter what topic we write about, we are always headed in the direction of showing you places where you can take control of your life, your mood, or your circumstances.

Next Tuesday is election day.  No matter what you think of the candidates, it is your chance to express your opinion about the direction you want for our country.  It’s the one opinion poll that really counts.  So please, vote this Tuesday.  We all count.

Below is a reprise of the fight to give women the vote.  It is a precious right.

Originally published on July 6th, 2010.

Each of us puts in one little stone, and then you get a great mosaic at the end.

— Alice Paul

I know that there are times when we forget just how blessed we truly are. The relentless waves of bad news hit us day after day whether via newspapers or TV or helpful friends wanting to be sure that we know of the latest betrayal or tragedy. As we sit there and process the latest news, we tend to worry that the good ol’ US of A is going to hell in a hand basket. My question – What are you doing about it?

As I was scanning the morning news, I found this article on the elections in Mexico. As a country, they are having to fight for the right to elect the people they want. It’s not that the polls aren’t open, it is that the drug cartels are trying to control the government. As in many other countries, voting (or running for office) can require great courage.

I know that there are those who read these stories and judge the countries where this fight still goes on as being corrupt or somehow unworthy of democracy. A recent email I received reminded me of our own past and what a battle it was for us to get to where we are today.

How Women Got the Vote

The longer our history, the less time we spend in history class on any one event. So although we, at some level, are aware that in our past a group of women fought for the right to vote, most of us are unaware of what those women had to do in order to prevail.

Recently, I received an email that told the story of women’s suffrage in the United States. I’d like to say that it reminded me, but I didn’t know the full story and you may not either.

Women received the right to vote in 1920, less than 100 years ago. Like many other major changes, this one required conviction and courage.

The fight in the US for women’s right to vote began as early as 1848. Prior to that there were individual women who were granted the right to vote based on their ownership of property. Since married women didn’t own property, the women who were able to vote were widows who essentially inherited the right to vote along with whatever “estate” was left to them. Since their ability to inherit depended on there being no other eligible heir (in other words, no male of appropriate age) and required agreement by the local government body, there weren’t very many voting women.

In 1848, the Liberty Party voted in a plank supporting the right of women to vote. It stated that the “universal exclusion of woman… argues, conclusively, that, not as yet, is there one nation so far emerged from barbarism, and so far practically Christian, as to permit woman to rise up to the one level of the human family.” At the same convention, an attempt was made to nominate a women to be the Vice Presidential candidate for the party. It took us a little longer to have that become a reality.

Over the intervening years, women continued to push forward the effort to get the vote. In 1917, the National Woman’s Party was founded. Previously, the movement had been focused on working from the bottom up. Their focus was to get the right to vote one state at a time. The NWP changed the focus to Washington DC. They lobbied Congress and repeatedly disrupted President Wilson’s speeches until he gave in and delivered a speech supporting women’s suffrage. The following year Congress passed the 19th amendment.

What It Cost

Looking back over time, history often loses the personal cost of individual events. It’s just a result of looking at a long timeline and not really understanding what went on during the years of the effort.

In order to get President Wilson’s attention, the NWP sponsored many parades and picketed the White House. They were often attacked as they marched down the street.

  • When they picketed the White House, 33 women were arrested and convicted of the charge of obstructing sidewalk traffic.
  • While in prison, their only water came from an open pail and their food was infested with worms.
  • Alice Paul (co-founder of the NWP) went on a hunger strike. The guards forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid down it until she vomited. Paul stayed on her hunger strike and guards continued to “force feed” her until the press became aware of the situation.
  • On November 15, 1917, the warden ordered the guards to teach the women a lesson. They were attacked by 40 guards who grabbed, beat, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted and kicked them.
  • They beat Lucy Burns (co-founder of NWP), chained her with her hands above her head and left her for the night, bleeding and struggling to breath.
  • When they threw Dora Lewis into her cell, her head smashed against the iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate thought that Dora was dead and suffered a heart attack.

In an effort to stop the movement, President Wilson attempted to get Alice Paul declared insane and get her institutionalized for life. The psychiatrist refused saying that strength and courage did not make her insane.

In 2004, HBO released Iron Jawed Angels , the story of the last few years of suffrage movement. It received a Golden Globe award. It’s a story that more of us should know. It shows the price that was paid so that we could have our say.

What Will You Do?

This November is the mid-term election. Ellie and I chose to post this now because there is more to voting than completing a ballot. We each have a responsibility to understand the issues and THINK about what is best for our country.

There are lots of excuses we use when we don’t vote. “They’re all alike. I’m not voting FOR anyone, I’m voting against his/her opponent. A pox on all their houses. What’s the point, someone else will just cancel out my vote?”

Ellie and I aren’t endorsing a particular position. What we are endorsing is the need for each and every one of us to be involved, to sort through the issues, make a decision and cast the ballot. Maybe they are all alike, but if they aren’t, how will we find out if we don’t give them a chance to do the right thing? How can they do what we think is the right thing if we don’t tell them loudly and clearly what we think the right thing is?

So, we issue this challenge.

If you haven’t already, register to vote! And then:

Get involved.

Get educated.


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