Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: The long road to equality

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The long road to equality

This is my column for the September 1 Zion-Benton News.  When I was at the library last week a woman I didn't know greeted me and said, "I really enjoy your column! When is the next one?" Here it is. 

In 1971 Congress designated August 26 to commemorate the 1920 certification of the 19th amendment to the Constitution.  The amendment  granted women the right to vote in political elections, also known as suffrage.  The 45th annual Women’s Equality Day was last Friday, August 26.  Did you celebrate?    
Lucretia Mott 
 The Lake County Women’s Coalition did!  LCWC members, including the Zion Woman’s Club and AAUW, hosted historical reenactor Annette Baldwin who portrayed five of the women who devoted their lives to the cause:  Lucretia Mott of Nantucket, Elizabeth Cady Stanton of New York, Susan B. Anthony of Massachusetts, Alice Paul of Pennsylvania, and Carrie Chapman Catt of Iowa.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton
It took 82 years to achieve the dream of women’s suffrage.  In July, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York.  Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Coffin Wright, Mary Ann M’Clintock, and Jane Hunt announced a “women’s rights convention.”  Not only could women not vote but also married women could not own property in their own names or enter into contracts. Stanton wrote a Declaration of Sentiments that enumerated the injustices that women endured.  She said, “Always ask for more than you expect to get. The result will seem reasonable.”  Sixty-eight women and thirty-two men signed the final resolutions of the convention.  
Susan B. Anthony

In the 1850’s the abolition of slavery took precedence over the issues of women’s rights.  After the Civil War the suffrage movement resumed.  Susan B. Anthony said, “We must work peaceably but persistently. We are always progressing. We will be heard. We shall some day be heeded.”

Alice Paul
New states in the great west – Kansas, Wyoming, Utah, Montana – allowed women to vote in local elections.   The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) was formed in 1890 to coordinate state-level activities. Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul were among the activists who traveled thousands of miles and spoke at numerous events.  Catt said, “Service to a just cause rewards the worker with more satisfaction than any other course in life.”  Paul was among the women who led a suffrage parade at Woodrow Wilson’s presidential inauguration in 1916. She was jailed, went on a hunger strike, and endured force feeding.  

Carrie Chapman Catt 
State by state, legislatures passed the proposed 19th Amendment. On August 19, 1920, Tennessee passed the amendment by a one-vote margin.  That one vote was by Harry Burn, a 24-year-old representative whose mother implored him to do the right thing.   Tennessee’s action cleared the way for the amendment’s official adoption eight days later.

We have come a long way since 1920.  Women hold elected office at all levels, from local commissions to city councils, township and county boards, and state legislatures and Congress.  Two women are candidates for President of the U.S. (the Democratic and the Green Parties). 

Yet, women’s median annual earnings are just 79% of men’s median annual earnings.  True, there are many reason for disparity in pay but gender should not be one of them.  

Though the 19th amendment is in full force, he Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed.   Illinois is one of the fifteen states that has not ratified the ERA, even though the state constitution has an equal rights clause.   How much longer will the Illinois General Assembly support equal rights for Illinois citizens while denying them for the rest of the nation?

Carrie Chapman Catt’s words are relevant today.  “Your vote is power, a weapon of offense and defense. Use it prayerfully,” she wrote. “We must make intelligent use of our citizenship. Let us all do our part to keep ours a true and triumphant democracy.” 

Honor the women who fought for the right to vote when you go to the polls this fall!

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1 comment:

  1. Yay for Tennessee making it happen! ICYDK, my grand-daughter's name is Cady for our family's relationship to the Cady's.


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