January 21, 2012 / Opportunity

Voting For Women Thanks to Women


The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.

I think the term “hero” is used way too often and way too loosely these days. People will name somebody famous and call him (or her) a hero and, when pressed, they don’t even really know why. “I dunno. I guess because he’s cool?” Not really anything with a lot of substance.

The political season can become very contentious and, unfortunately divisive. Raised voices and blood pressures are not uncommon and, on occasion, I am no exception. Any time major elections roll around, however, my heart softens a bit when my thoughts turn to those whom I consider true heroes: the women who fought so hard for my right to vote.

Alice Paul, Ph.D. was a suffragist who worked tirelessly to continue the efforts of Susan B. Anthony to secure the right for women to vote, and she was the original author of the Equal Rights Amendment (which still has not passed). In 1917 she organized a small group of women to protest in front of the White House for women’s voting rights. They were arrested and thrown in jail. While they were incarcerated, she and some of the other women went on a hunger strike. They were force-fed with feeding tubes, and prison officials tried to have her transferred to a psychiatric hospital to be declared insane. This garnered so much attention in the press that President Wilson told Congress it was a necessary part of the war effort to pass an amendment. The 19th Amendment passed in 1920.

I had the pleasure of spending some time with my favorite aunt, Aunt Maggie, during the holidays. She shared a lot of  family history with me, including her grandmother’s involvement in the suffrage movement. I knew that my great-grandmother lived in Chicago during the early years of her marriage. What I didn’t know was that she bundled up her infant daughter (my grandmother) and took her to downtown Chicago to march in a demonstration for women’s right to vote.

My dad took my sister and me to register to vote on our eighteenth birthdays, and neither one of us has missed a chance to vote since. My dad continued the tradition with our niece, taking her to register two years ago on her eighteenth birthday. This was only possible because less than one hundred years ago a small group of women led by Alice Paul thought that in the future our opinions would be just as important as those of men, and risked everything to make sure I could do that.

My great-grandmother may not have been thrown in jail, but she stood firm in her convictions and went against what so many other people wanted for her. She demanded that she and all of her female descendants be granted the right to have a say in how this country is run. Every time I drop my envelope in that little box, I will say a small prayer of gratitude for her and Alice Paul. Voting and being grateful are the very least I can do to honor and acknowledge their efforts.

Sadly, it looks as though we won’t have a woman to vote for this time around. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our generation’s great-granddaughters thought of a woman in the White House as a non-issue, the way we now think of voting?  We still have a lot of work to do.

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  • Marille

    Edee thanks for writing about Alice Paul, who is also one of my favorite heroes. On women’s equality day August 2010, the biography of Alice Paul was released, written by Mary Walton, entitled “A woman’s crusade, Alice Paul and the battle for the ballot”.
    Did you know that the staging of the protest for women’s votes before the white house, was the first time anyone used this place for protests? For decades women used the legislature, collected hundred thousands of signatures, marched in the streets and now they occupied the white house gates with flags spelling out their demands.
    Here is a quote from Gene Roberts praising the book: “Nearly half a century before Martin Luther King brought Ghandian methods to bear on racial segregation, Alice Paul used non violent protest to win full voting rights for American women; but few Americans know about her, Mary Walton vividly brings Alice Paul to life in this brilliant, important and highly readable book.”
    I tremendously enjoyed reading this book. Provided lots of additional information to the movie “iron jawed angels”.
    This battle is a major successful one to advance women’s rights and we can learn much from it.

  • Thanks so much for the book recommendation. I hadn’t heard of it until reading your comment, so I just downloaded it! Growing up I had heard of Susan B. Anthony because we had a Susan B. Anthony coin. Feminism and ERA were not exactly celebrated where I grew up and when I went to college there were no women’s studies courses. I can’t wait to start reading my new book.

    By the way, that’s my great-grandmother, Marguerite Alexander Welch (Maw Maw to the rest of us) in the second picture. I was only about four years old when she passed away. She was very frail and in a wheelchair, so it was wonderful to hear about her strength and determination as a younger woman.

  • Marguerite Kearns

    The more we find out about our grandmothers and great-grandmother’s lives as suffragists, the more we want to know, and the more we need to know. Its very exciting when folks like Edee can make a personal link. This got me started too.

    An account by Doris Stevens (published in 1920) gives a first-person perspective of what happened to Alice Paul and her coworkers and activists when organizing for the vote. An audio version of her book, “Jailed for Freedom” is available on the Suffrage Wagon News Channel.

    The book is edited into segments of fairly brief mp3 files and they run about 25 minutes. It’s like hearing the actual words of our foremothers who were in the front lines of suffrage. Very potent stuff. After listening to a segment, you can feel like almost an authority about the history of Votes for Women.

    The audio material is easy to listen to –and VERY informative.

    The “Jailed for Freedom” audio files by Doris Stevens can be found on: