17 August 2008

remembering the suffragists

It's hard to believe that it was less than a hundred years ago in this country, women did not have the right to vote. What's even more incredulous is that many women today do not exercise the right that just ninety years ago, the suffragists dedicated their lives to securing for future generations of female citizens of the United States.

The right to vote was extended to women in the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920, but the fight for women's suffrage in this country was a long and arduous one, beginning some seventy years earlier. It first gained public notice in 1848 when Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony held the first women's rights convention on July 19 and 20 in Seneca Falls, New York.

Alice Paul

Fast forward to 1912 when Alice Paul and Lucy Burns joined the fight. They spent several years campaigning for a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote, gaining support slowly and steadily, but not without opposition. In driving rain and falling snow and forceful wind, members of the National Women's Party stood outside the White House day after day, season after season while passersby hurled insults and food at them. Their decision to picket a wartime president was an unpopular one.

It was because of this picketing in 1917 that several members of the National Women's Party were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia where they were treated brutally and force-fed when they went on hunger strike. Finding no valid charges to bring against them, the women were charged with obstructing traffic.

Below is a scene from the HBO film Iron Jawed Angels that depicts the suffragists in the Occoquan Workhouse. Alice Paul has joined her fellow suffragists in prison and once again, refuses to eat. She maintains that she is a political prisoner and being held without just cause. When I watch this film, I am proud of what these women did, of what they fought for and how they fought for it. I want to honor their choice to fight tirelessly to ensure the women of this country would have full rights as citizens.

The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920 and certified eight days later: just eighty-eight years ago.

You better believe I think of them whenever I cast a ballot.

It's not actually until tomorrow, but let me be the first the wish you a happy Women's Suffrage Day.


  1. "Happy women's suffrage day" Does that seem like an odd phrase? Ok my friend I was going to act all male pig to get you going a bit but the truth is that I have a profound respect for people and could care less what their race, sex, or whatever the difference might be. I will be sure to honor these women tomorrow in conversation with others so that their sacrifices for equality will be remembered.
    Be blessed my full of piss and vinegar friend. You are a true gift.

  2. Wow. That scene is really powerful. I've never seen someone force-fed before . . . not pleasant (and that's an understatement). Thanks for sharing that clip, and also for letting us know about the anniversary of this day. It's hard to imagine living in a climate where women were not recognized as humans dignified by basic human rights in a free land.

  3. PS: I just checked the countdown counter . . . 1 day, 23 hours! Woot woot!

  4. It's so easy to remember that all the important stuff happened because someone once cared enough about it to cause trouble, not only for the establishment but for themselves. Wow.

  5. "forget"...I meant "easy to forget" or "hard to remember." Right.

  6. I would like to share a women's history learning opportunity.

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    Two beautiful and extremely powerful suffragettes -- Alice Paul and Emmeline Pankhurst are featured, along with Edith Wharton, Isadora Duncan, Alice Roosevelt and two gorgeous presidential mistresses.

    There are tons of heartache for our heroines on the rocky road to the ballot box - but in the end - they WIN!

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