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Here are the groundbreaking convention records, speeches, newspaper accounts, letters, photos, and drawings of those who fought for women's right to vote, all in their own words, arranged to convey the inherent historical drama. The accessible almanac style allows this entertaining history speak for itself.
It is full of little-known facts. For instance: When the Constitutional Convention of the thirteen colonies convened to draft the Constitution, Abigail Adams admonished her husband John Adams to "remember the ladies" (write rights for women into the Constitution!).
Important for today's discussions, Remember the Ladies does not extract women's suffrage from the inseparable concurrent historic endeavors for emancipation, immigration, and temperance. Its robust research documents the intersectionality of women's struggle for the vote in its true context with other progressive efforts.
The history of the past is but one long struggle upward to equality.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Cracking the Ceiling
On the day after Hillary Clinton's nomination as the Democratic Party candidate for president in 2016, the mayor of Rochester, New York, placed a sign next to Susan B. Anthony's grave in Mount Hope Cemetery there.
The red-white-and-blue sign said: "Dear Susan B., We thought you might like to know that for the first time in history, a woman is running for President representing a major party. 144 years ago, your illegal vote got you arrested. It took another 48 years for women finally to gain the right to vote. Thank you for paving the way."
It was signed "Lovely Warren, The first female mayor of Rochester." Warren, the second African-American to hold the post, became the city's sixty-seventh mayor on January 2, 2014. A Rochester native, she is an attorney and was president of the City Council before her election. She earned a bachelor's degree from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and a juris doctor degree from Albany Law School of Union University.
The city of Rochester posted pictures of the sign on Twitter and invited people to visit the cemetery to sign it. Women in the Rochester area have a tradition of leaving "I voted" stickers and flowers at the grave.
On November 8, the day of the presidential election, the Associated Press reported, "A steady stream of people lined up at Rochester's Mount Hope cemetery starting before dawn to pay respects to the women's suffrage leader. Women left hundreds of voting stickers as tributes."
Mayor Warren was there to pass out new stickers with Anthony's image, and the cemetery had announced extended hours to allow the tradition to continue. The crowd grew into the thousands by afternoon.
Nora Rubel, director of the Susan B. Anthony Institute at the University of Rochester, took her two daughters to the polls and the grave to share the experience.
The AP article cheerfully noted that this was "an Election Day that could put America's first female president in the White House."
It did not. Hillary Rodham Clinton lost the election to Donald Trump and conceded after a hard-fought and rough battle. She won the popular vote with 48.2 percent to Trump's 46.1, but lost the all-important Electoral College tally 232 to her opponent's 306, making it an even more heartrending loss.
She addressed an audience, mostly of staff, the following day, while her husband, former president Bill Clinton; her running mate, Tim Kaine; and many campaign aides wiped back tears or sobbed audibly.
"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now," she said. "And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and to achieve your own dreams."
It was a campaign in which talk of "assaulting women," "nasty woman," and "misogyny" became common parlance, so the loss was a bitter pill to take for many women especially, and many men.
Still, it was but one more brick in the wall of disappointments women have suffered for centuries in the long struggle to participate in the public square and to be heard. Susan B. Anthony and her fellow suffragists probably would not be all that surprised, but they would understand the pain women voters were feeling.
Susan B. Anthony died in 1906 at the age of eighty-six, fourteen years before the woman suffrage amendment was adopted. Many women have her to thank for the opportunity to vote and to hold public office.
Anthony lived in Rochester with her sister, Mary, in a modest house at 17 Madison Street near downtown for the last forty years of her life. I worked as a newspaper editor in Rochester at the end of the 1970s. Though I lived only a few blocks away from where this house stands, I don't recall if I knew then that it existed, though I was very aware that she was from the area. The house opened as a museum in the mid- to late 1990s, according to museum staff. I went back to tour it as I completed the manuscript for this book. I had been to Seneca Falls the day before to see the church where the first women's rights convention was held in 1848 and to visit the homes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Mary Ann M'Clintock, and Jane Hunt, who had helped organize that gathering. I wanted to feel the spirit of the women and of the suffrage movement, as much as to glean any further facts I could from their surroundings and infuse them into this story.
As a woman who went to school from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, grade school to grad school, I knew little of the suffrage movement and the women behind it. Women received almost no mention in our history books, and women's studies courses were not in our college catalogs. Even as a feminist, voracious reader, and often reviewer of books in general and history in particular, I had rarely stumbled upon books about women's roles and contributions. When I embarked on the project to write this book, I was inspired by the upcoming centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment—known as the Susan B. Anthony Amendment—which gave all women the right to vote. I had no idea how little I knew about Anthony and the other women of the movement, and I suspect that I am not alone.
I assumed younger women, educated after women's names began to creep into history books and women's history became a recognized part of school curricula, knew more. My daughter-in-law, age thirty, born after my formal education ended, assisted me in assembling the time line for the book. When she finished her part, she remarked, "Mom, I had no idea how bad we had it." In Rochester and Seneca Falls, I bought books about Susan B. Anthony and suffrage history for her daughter, my granddaughter, age eleven then and already a history buff, so that she might know and take her right to vote very seriously when she grows up.
Seventy Years of Struggle
One hundred years from now, young women will find it difficult to believe that for nearly 150 years of the nation's history, members of their sex could not legally cast votes to elect a president or even a school board member. The drafters of the United States Constitution did not think to include women at all. The nation's Founders did not explicitly exclude women or disenfranchise them, as they did specifically for enslaved Africans. Rather, from what we know of constitutional history, the subject of women voting does not seem to have come up. If it did, it was a fleeting thought. Women were the wombs of society. Through thousands of years of biblical interpretation, law, and custom, women, especially married women, simply were not considered entities with rights separate from men's. It was as if women were part of the furniture in men's lives. They were expected to remain silent on public matters, and the vast majority of women stayed in their place.
The architects of a new democracy could have thrown off the dictates of the past and extended liberty to women, but they did not. The U.S. Constitution makes no reference to women and uses male pronouns thirty times.
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights added in 1791 make several mentions of "persons" and "citizens." The first mention of sex in regard to voting rights would come with the introduction of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War, which granted the vote to formerly enslaved men. It specifically reads "male inhabitants" and "male citizens." (Suffragists would seize on its references to "citizens" having a right to vote, arguing unsuccessfully that it applied to women as well.)
The matter of who should vote was left to the states to deal with in their constitutions. Only one state, New Jersey, drew up a document that allowed women to vote, and it later reversed itself.
No doubt, young women of the next century will also find it difficult to fathom that no major party had ever selected a woman as the frontrunner on its presidential ticket until 2016, much less that no woman had ever been president.
A century ago, states had begun granting suffrage to women, some limiting it to local elections and some extending full suffrage, like New York in 1917, followed by Oklahoma and South Dakota, both in 1918, setting the stage for the final push for a constitutional amendment that would extend that right to all women. The ratification of that amendment in 1920 marked the end of more than seventy years of organized struggle that saw the formation of strong bonds, followed by divisions, reconciliations, and new disagreements over tactics.
Strong women came to the front to fight the battle. What kind of women would take up the banner at a time when women virtually were forbidden to speak in public? Early on, they were mostly white, middle-class, and most often members of the Society of Friends, known as Quakers. Their religion allowed women more agency, accepted them as equals to men, imparted a duty to see others as equal to themselves, and compelled them to seek justice for all. The early reformers tended to be more educated than women of similar social standing. At the time, few girls had any schooling beyond scant basics, no matter how well off their parents were, because few schools were open to them. Quaker girls generally received educations equal to the boys'. Many leaders in the women's rights movement also began their careers as teachers, and many had been or became journalists and publishers to further the work.
None of these women acted alone, however. Nearly all of the early women's rights leaders had long labored for the abolition of slavery. When they stepped forward to demand rights for themselves, they quickly found allies among other abolitionists, men and women, white and black, who attended their meetings, spoke for their cause, and printed notices in newspapers. The abolitionist women were on a first-name basis with men like William Lloyd Garrison, editor of the Liberator, and Frederick Douglass, editor of the North Star and a self-emancipated black man. The women reformers shared platforms with black women like Sojourner Truth and Frances E. W. Harper.
The early leaders had mastered the skills necessary to mount a revolution through their work in the antislavery movement, some through their clandestine involvement with the Underground Railroad, as well as in the temperance movement. They were well-practiced in giving lectures, organizing conventions, putting up handbills, and petitioning lawmakers. Without the aid of smartphones, personal computers with color printers, social media, air travel, or even faxes, these women and the men who supported them organized multiple conventions, petition drives, and lecture tours. Before telegraph, radio, and television were available, the suffragists publicized their cause through letters, tracts, and newspapers. Lecturers took long rides by stagecoach, buggy, train, ferryboat, and ocean liner, often risking their own health and comfort. The stalwarts stayed in run-down hotels, boarding houses, or inns, if no friendly suffragist's home was available. Orators nailed placards to posts and trees to announce their lectures and meetings held in rented halls, barns, or the few churches that welcomed them. For thanks, the suffrage workers were often heckled, ridiculed, pilloried in sermons, targeted in editorials, mobbed, threatened, and even hung in effigy. Even worse, as time went on, some were jailed for picketing peacefully, robbed of their civil liberties, tortured, assaulted, and force-fed. Yet for more than seventy years, a small but determined parade of women kept the cause alive.
When women won full voting rights under the U.S. Constitution in 1920, only one woman who had attended the historic gathering of the founding members of the movement in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 was alive to see it.
She was Charlotte Woodward Pierce, then a nineteen-year-old farm girl and glove maker. After reading a notice of the meeting in a newspaper, she rallied about a half-dozen friends and traveled in a horse-drawn wagon to attend the meeting in Seneca Falls on July 19 and 20, 1848. She was among the sixty-eight women and thirty-two men who signed the Declaration of Sentiments adopted that day. In 1920, when women could vote at last in the presidential election, she was unable to cast her ballot because of illness.
At the Ballot Box
One of the arguments often raised against the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, which eventually gave all women the right to vote, was that women did not want the vote. Certainly, many of them did not, and some actively fought against it.
Having won the vote, women began to influence the political process and to serve in offices where they could make a difference. Many became active in the major movements of the century, including the civil rights movement, antiwar protests, and the feminist movement to expand women's rights, including the unsuccessful battle for the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s.
High points included Shirley Chisholm's run for the presidency in 1972 as the first woman to seek the Democratic Party's presidential nomination, the Democrats' selection of Geraldine Ferraro as Walter Mondale's vice presidential candidate in 1984, and, of course, Hillary Clinton's two campaigns for the presidency: in 2008, when she was defeated for the nomination by the first black man to win the office, Barack Obama; and in 2016, when she secured the nomination but lost the Electoral College vote.
Despite dire predictions, the enfranchisement of women did not bring wholesale social upheaval or the destruction of the American family or the demise of true womanhood. It did not result in women voting as a bloc and preventing men from holding office. None of the leading suffragists ran for office. Neither did giving women the vote cure all the social ills of the nation and end all wars, as many suffragists seemed to have believed it would. Southern lawmakers' fears that suffrage for black women would swell the number of votes for the race and end whites' domination dissipated, as the white power structure was able to use the same methods to block them from registering and voting as they used against black men. That began to change with the civil rights movement and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Women elsewhere did go to the polls, voting in steadily increasing numbers. According to an analysis of voting patterns from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, a greater proportion of women than men has voted in every presidential election since 1980. CAWP said the number of women voting has exceeded the number of men voting since 1964. The center found that 65.4 percent of women and 62.1 percent of men voted in 2004. Women have cast four to seven million more votes than men have in recent elections, CAWP said.
"It is women who decide elections," Kate Black, the vice president of research at Emily's List, told Salon in an interview. "It's women who show up." Emily's List is a political action committee devoted to electing pro-choice Democratic women to public office.
According to CAWP, in 2012, 63.7 percent of women and 59.8 percent of men reported voting.
Moreover, women have emerged as a force in politics because they are voting differently from men in a trend known as the gender gap. Increasingly, women are voting for Democratic tickets. In 2012, for instance, the incumbent president Barack Obama got 55 percent of the women's vote and 45 percent of the men's vote. Mitt Romney, the Republican, got 52 percent of the men's vote and 44 percent of the women's, according to a Salon analysis.
"Democrats are really talking about the issues that women care about," Black told Salon. She defined those issues as "economic security issues," including equal pay, paid family leave, job security, and access to health care, that are increasingly dominating the dialogue between women and the candidates seeking office.
"You used to see these issues siloed on candidate websites under the 'women's issues' section," she said. "Now, they're front and center."
Indeed, Kelly Dittmar, a political scientist at Rutgers and researcher for the Center for American Women and Politics, told Salon that women's preferences were reshaping the Democratic Party of 2016 as the campaigns worked to be more responsive to women and dropped more conservative positions.
Economic security issues were appealing to women because they "tend to be more vulnerable, still today, in terms of needing access to the social safety net, for their children and families, and for themselves," Dittmar said.
Despite their greater numbers and growing tendency to vote Democratic, the women's vote did not boost Hillary Clinton to the nomination of her party in 2008 and did not win the White House for her in 2016. In her 2008 run, she had largely played down the historical fact that she would be the first woman president if elected, until she conceded to Barack Obama in a speech to supporters that June.
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about eighteen million cracks in it," Clinton said, making reference to the number of votes she collected in the primaries. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."
After the campaign, she gave her staff members gifts, necklaces for women and cuff links for men with a symbolic crackled-glass emblem that read "18 million cracks HRC 2008" on the back—reminiscent of the suffrage leader Alice Paul's jail door emblems for her supporters incarcerated for protests. (See Section 6, "Jail and Hunger Strikes.") Some aides wore the crackled-glass pieces at the Democratic National Convention in 2016 in the days leading up to her formal nomination.
After the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton graciously accepted her opponent's invitation to serve in his Cabinet as secretary of state. She weathered some storms and controversies in that position, then came back to soldier on again for the nomination. After a campaign against the former Independent from Vermont, Senator Bernie Sanders, which was fought right up to the last day, she emerged as the victor for the top of the ticket.
Just before she stepped out to give her acceptance speech at the DNC in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016, the delegates and a television audience of nearly 34 million viewers, according to Nielsen ratings, saw a video depicting her as a wife, mother, grandmother, and dedicated public servant that ended with the sights and sounds of shattering glass. She glided onto the stage resplendent in white, like Inez Milholland, who rode her horse in the 1913 suffrage parade in Washington (see Section 6, "Welcoming Wilson"), and the New York suffragists on parade. Only on this night, Clinton was in her trademark pantsuit, not the flowing white gown Milholland chose or the long skirts of the parading suffragists.
In this campaign, Clinton readily embraced her feminine identity. She addressed it immediately in her remarks, and many people in the audience, mostly women, shed tears as she did. Women on social media confessed to crying as they watched her on television in their homes or at watch parties.
"Tonight, we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president," Clinton said. "Standing here as my mother's daughter, and my daughter's mother, I'm so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone. When there are no ceilings, the sky's the limit."
While no woman had ever stood on that platform as the nominee of a major party, women have secured a place in elective politics throughout the country, in offices from school boards to mayoral offices, like Lovely Warren of Rochester. They have served as heads of their state governments, like Nikki Haley of South Carolina; in the U.S. House of Representatives, like Patsy Mink of Hawaii or Millicent Fenwick and Helen Meyner, both of New Jersey; and in the U.S. Senate, like Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, and Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois.
Jeannette Rankin's election to Congress in 1916 put her in place to begin the legislative debate that eventually led to approval of the Nineteenth Amendment and the ratification process. Since 1917, when Rankin came to Congress, 325 women have served as U.S. representatives, delegates, or senators as of 2017, according to the House of Representatives' History, Art, and Archives website.
Women have also served in appointed positions: only four to date as Supreme Court justices—Sandra Day O'Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan; and about thirty presidential Cabinet members as of 2016, beginning with Frances Perkins, secretary of labor from 1933 to 1945, appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Cabinet women have also included such notable women as Condoleezza Rice, who was a childhood friend of the little girls killed in a Birmingham church during the civil rights movement.
- On Sale
- May 23, 2017
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Center Street