Women’s vote took 72 years of work

March is National Women’s History Month. Because I’d always grown up with the right for women to vote, I never thought much about Women’s History until I became president of The Buncombe County’s Women’s Commission in North Carolina in the late 90s. I was blown away by the dedication and perseverance of women who fought for our right to vote, because they had so much faith in the goodness and wisdom of women to make decisions that help people, that they dedicated their lives to the task. The right to vote is called suffrage.

It’s hard to imagine that women were once considered basically the property of their fathers, and then their husbands. A fairly wealthy woman could marry a man, and her wealth became his. If there was a divorce, he got her money, and the children. He could go out and drink and beat her up as if she was a thing, and it was his right to do so.

Women’s history of securing the right to vote wasn’t in history books even in the 1960s. It was gruesome in parts. Here’s a brief history that I found at: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenstimeline1.html

1848: The first women’s rights convention is held in Seneca Falls, New York, lasting two days. A set of 12 resolutions is adopted calling for equal treatment of women and men, and voting rights for women. Sixty-eight women and thirty-three men attended.

1850: The First National Women’s Rights takes place in Worcester, Massachusetts. They were held yearly through 1860, except for 1857.

1869: Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton form the National Woman Suffrage Association, with the goal of achieving women’s suffrage through a Congressional amendment to the Constitution.

Remember please that there were no telephones, or email systems, or speedy mail vehicles. They wrote letters to each other. While their personal lives were quite different, they were united in their vision of the need for women to have the right to vote, and became warm personal friends.

Anthony was a Quaker who never married. She was a teacher and advocated for equal pay for women. She traveled and lectured throughout the U.S. and Europe, nurturing the feminist movement, and saw it gain in political importance. She was put in prison for voting in 1872. She continued her activism until her death in 1906, 14 years before women earned the right to vote.

Stanton was the daughter of a lawyer and well educated. She married a reformer, Henry Stanton and had seven children. She was a brilliant writer and wrote much of the lecture material that Anthony shared. She died in 1902, but both women inspired other women and men to join them in their cause.

1969: Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, and others form the American Woman Suffrage Association. This group’s goal was to achieve suffrage through amendments to individual state constitutions.

1890: The National Woman Suffrage Association and the American Women Suffrage Association merge to form the National American Woman Suffrage Association, and wages campaigns in individual states to obtain suffrage.

1893: Colorado was the first state to adopt an amendment granting women the right to vote. Fifteen other states also adopted voting amendments by 1918.

1917: Women are imprisoned for demonstrating that women should have the right to vote. They go on hunger strikes, and are painfully force-fed. They also endured rough handling and appalling filth in prisons.

1918: President Wilson asked for Congress to pass the women’s suffrage legislation. It passed in the House, but failed by two votes. In 1919, it failed by one vote.

1920: It passed, but only because the senator from Tennessee changed his vote when his mother sent him a telegram to support women’s suffrage.

Many milestones have occurred since August of 1920. Women were responsible for educating women about birth control, and formed Planned Parenthood. The Equal Pay Act, passed in 1963, makes it illegal for employers to pay a woman less than what a man would receive for the same job.

In 1964, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars discrimination in employment on the basis of race and sex, and establishes the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate complaints. As a teen, I remember that there were job listings for men, and those for women. There were no women firemen, and almost no male secretaries or nurses, but the women’s movement led to work hiring by ability, with equal pay.

Not all the changes have laws to guide them. There is a pervading sense that women have equal abilities as men, except for physical strength in some cases.

I would like to urge women, and especially young women, to Google some of the websites about women’s equality, and look at some of the biography videos on the web. There are many. Every time you read a want ad, get equal pay, get a fair divorce or a good education, thank an ancestor, or should we say, “ansister?” A good website to start at could be: http://www.infoplease.com/spot/womenhistbios.html

I was thinking that to be fair, I should include a website for men’s history bios. They seem to be specific, such as “African Americans in history” or “Mississippi men.” It’s because before Women’s History acknowledgement, it was all men’s history. So pick someone you admire, and read or watch what made him great.

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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