Are you a woman?
Did you vote in the last election?
No? Why not?
Running late for….?
The kids were crabby?
Didn’t have a babysitter?
It was my turn to carpool?
Stopping wasn’t convenient?
Didn’t care about the issues?
It was raining/snowing/too hot/ too cold?
You’ve probably seen the email about the women who picketed the White House in 1917. It got me really thinking because I’ve used at least one two four…okay, I’ve used eight of them over the years. But have repented of my sins. My eyes have really been opened, and now I hope you too will understand how important it is for women to vote…always.
Let’s step back in time to circa 1917 for a moment and take a look at a few of our fore-mothers. If you’re a woman, I guarantee after reading this you’ll immediately make sure you’re registered. I vaguely remember learning about the Suffrage and women’s voting rights, but never like this. With the Internet’s vast resources, this period in time becomes much more raw and powerful than its gloss-over counterpart in some dusty old history book.
Why Women MUST Vote
Even though women fought and won for the right to vote in other countries decades before, it was not until 1920 when women were officially granted the right to vote in elections in our country without restrictions or property requirements. This radical movement by progressive women to change the cultural mindset was, as we all learned in school, called The Suffrage. While women gained small victories in various area in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the patriarch cultures many times reversed rulings, relegating women to second class citizens when it came to matters of politics. Their reasoning was that women were much too emotionally unstable to logically make decisions about these matters.
Evidently they underestimated the bullheadedness, stubborn, rage, power of women, at any given time, in the throws of PMS or peri-menopause. While mainly a movement of protest, some of these women did take violent and aggressive actions. One could argue that because of this, the reason for repressing them was validated. But it’s not wise to argue with a woman once she sets her mind something…rational or not.
Citing her citizenship under the 14th Amendment, Susan B. Anthony went to the polls to cast her ballot in the 1872 presidential election. She was arrested, tried, convicted, and fined $100, which she refused to pay. Although she and Elizabeth Stanton founded the National Woman’s Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869 to advance women’s suffrage, she died 14 years before passage of the 19th Amendment, never having the opportunity to cast a legal vote.
The height of The Suffrage in America came just before the onset of The Roaring 20s…a hotbed of all kinds of new, questionable behaviors in women (think Chicago, the musical). The social, cultural and artistic upheaval of the this time period would forever re-define womanhood.
During this time, Woodrow Wilson was president. Although reported to be proud of his progressive ideas, he stood by as one of the most violent nights of aggression on record against the Suffrage movement unfolded in the autumn of 1917.
Thirty-three women, armed only with picket signs asking for equal rights for women when it came to voting, stood outside our nation’s capitol. Essentially defenseless, these women were arrested and jailed for picketing the White House.
Obstructing sidewalk traffic.
So began the events of November 15, 1917. The women were taken to the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia, where the warden sent 40 club-wielding prison guards to teach the imprisoned Suffragists a lesson. All because they dared to picket in front of President Wilson’s White House for the right to vote.
Here are a few photos of these dangerous criminals. I must say I’ve never seen a more threatening group. I know…looks can be deceiving. You decide.
Lucy Burns was beaten and her hands chained to the cell bars above her head. She was left hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. Lucy was not new to the prison system. Her Suffrage protests landed her in jail many times, and she may have been the one that spent the most time behind bars for her Suffrage activities. But being imprisoned did not stop her resolve…as from within prison walls, she organized protests among the other prisoners. During her hunger strike, she was force-fed her food. Force feeding Lucy Burns required five people to hold her down. When the guards were unsuccessful in opening her mouth, they shoved the feeding tube up her nose.
Dora Lewis smashed her head against an iron bed when thrown into her prison cell. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, suffered a heart attack because she thought Dora was dead. Affidavits from that night testify the guards’ actions included grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women. For weeks the women were imprisoned with only an open pail for water. Worms infested their food.
Alice Paul was an advocated of more militant direct-action tactics to get the point across. Educated in America and Great Britain, she was the original author of the initial Equal Rights Amendment to our Constitution in 1923.
As one of the imprisoned women, she protested their treatment and prison conditions with a hunger strike. Guards tied her to a chair and forced liquefied food through a tube into her throat until she vomited. It was weeks before reports were smuggled out of the prison to the press about these secret activities.
So, explain something to me…why won’t some women vote this year?
Can the twenty-first century woman even comprehend the battle these women waged so she has the right to step into the polling station, pull the curtain and have her say in how government is run? A privilege so highly valued by these women that they literally risked their lives so future generations of women, regardless of their “status,” could exercise that right without fear or retribution. We complain about so many unfair situations these days. Unfair was being denied the right to vote because of your gender. Unfair was being denied the right to vote because you were married. Unfair was being denied the right to vote because you didn’t own property in your name. Unfair was being thought of as another person’s property.
Is voting inconvenient? Absolutely. At times, it IS hard to fit it into a hectic day. And for working moms, when is there a day that isn’t hectic? But I bet young women of this generation probably don’t even bat a pretty little mascaraed eye about what it took to get women to this point. In less than 100 short years, we’ve gone from women literally risking their lives for the chance to cast their vote to barely thinking twice about it…maybe not even realizing (if a local issue) that there’s even an election going on.
What would these Suffragists think of our gender if they knew some of the reasons we use NOT to stop what we are doing and vote? Would they think twice about the courage of their conviction? Would they even have bothered if they knew how nonchalantly we now take this right for granted?
Did these women suffer and endure the humiliation, abuse and ridicule so we could shrug our shoulders and say, I just can’t take time out of my day to do this.
What inconvenience could we possibly have compared to what these women endured?
President Wilson tried to have Alice Paul declared insane so she could be permanently institutionalized. Thankfully, the doctor refused, stating that Alice Paul was strong and brave. And that didn’t make her crazy. The doctor was a man.
Our right to vote was fought for by strong, brave, courageous women. It doesn’t matter if you vote Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Independent, Conservative, Liberal, Labour/Labor, Tea Party or Green…Just. Go. Vote.
Photos and historical information taken in part from the Library of Congress/Records of the National Woman’s Party.