Wednesday Jul 08, 2009

The Triumph of Women's Suffrage

Mr. Robert P. J. Cooney, Jr. came to Sun Microsystems today to talk to the Women@Sun group about the triumphant women's suffrage movement in the United States that took more than 60 years to gain success. Sixty years! Just for women to get the right to vote!  [1] Mr. Cooney became interested in this movement in the 1970s when attending school to become a graphic artist, when he realized the large prejudice that women needed to overcome and that they were able to do this in a nonviolent way.

This was such a difficult task, as the women had to convince men that not only were women prepared to vote, but that women were educated and informed. Only men could decide whether or not to grant women the right to vote, and many of these men were ignorant, uneducated and even illiterate.  A difficult task at hand, indeed!

Suffragists started with parades in different states to raise awareness of their concerns, along with organizing peaceful rallies. Getting women to join in these events was difficult, as many were afraid that their participation would be seen as too forward by the men and scare the men off of giving them the vote even more, but the suffragists knew they could not be silent. They need to be seen to be heard.

The US Supreme Court had ruled that it was an issue that should be decided by the states, so the women had to levy campaigns in each and every state, a very arduous process indeed! These campaigns were most successful in the progressive west. East of the Mississippi, the only suffrage many women could get was the ability to vote only for school boards and other small, local positions.

Susan B. Anthony strongly believed it was really a federal issue, and began the push for a federal amendment to the US Constitution. Unfortunately, she died before seeing this come to pass, after 45 years of tireless effort on her part.  Fortunately, there were other women ready to take up the task at hand and push the movement forward, even in times of war.

The women found they were ignored by both major political parties, so their took their parades to the democratic and republican conventions. At one of them, the women actually had a silent, still "parade" - where they all wore white with golden jewelry and parasols and lined the street and stood silently while the delegates were participating in their own march down that same street. The eerie silence had great impact on those delegates, bringing the rights of women to the forefront of their minds.

When the suffragists were not getting momentum they wanted at the national level, they began to leverage their vote in the western states to oust seated national politicians, targeting, in particular, the democratic party. I find this an interesting historic note, as the democrat party is now associated with women's rights, but apparently the turn of the 19th century told a different story.

Mr. Cooney has documented this in his book, Winning the Vote: The Triumph of the American Woman Suffrage Movement, which is filled with outstanding images of the buttons and posters the suffragists made, as well as pictures of the rallies and events and documentation of the cruel treatment several women received for protesting peacefully outside of the White House during World War I.

Mt. Cooney is an eloquent speaker and I really look forward to reading his book in the up coming weeks, but all of this reminds me that all over the world today, women still do not have the right to vote and have themselves represented. It's so disturbing to me, because it seems like such an inalienable right. How can we be citizens and pay taxes and not vote? But, if it took more than 60 years to make such thing a documented right in a progressive country like our own, it may be many more lifetimes before women the world over have these same freedoms and the same voice. Let's hope it comes sooner than later, for all of our sakes.

[1] As pointed out during the Q&A session, not all women gained the right to vote in all states in 1920.  For many women of color, particularly those that lived in the south, that quest took another 40 years, where they had to fight along side their brothers and fathers to get the same equal representation.

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Valerie's former weblog. The new one can be found at http://bubbva.blogspot.com/

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