Saturday, September 20, 2008

Suffrage

I received an interesting email today. I have not checked the facts, but it sounds plausible. Even though this pertains to the US suffragette movement, it is relevant to all women everywhere. I hope it will encourage all of us, men and women of the current voting generation whether in the US or Canada to get out there and cast our ballots in the upcoming elections.

Text and pictures are copied from the email:

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.


Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

(Lucy Burns)

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'
They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping
for air.
(Dora Lewis)

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

(Alice Paul)

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/prisoners.pdf

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because--why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO's new movie 'Iron Jawed Angels.' It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege.Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women's history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was--with herself. 'One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,' she said.
'What would those women think of the way I use, or don't use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.' The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her 'all over again.'

HBO released the movie on video and DVD . I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn't our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn't make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: 'Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.'

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.

We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women. Remember to vote.

P.S. In Canada the women of Manitoba got the right to vote in 1916 thanks to the efforts of Nellie McClung and her colleagues. The rest of Canadian women were allowed to vote in federal elections when the Women's Franchise Act was passed in 1918. However, it was not until 1940 that the women of Quebec got the right to vote in provincial elections - the last province to accord them this right of suffrage.

(Nellie McClung)
Nellie McClung

4 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Sweetheart, sorry, I only meant to edit my comment...not delete it.

    This is an excellent post!

    As you know, in the '80s I was hired by the National Organization for Women as a public speaker. I went around the state of North Carolina speaking on behalf of the Equal Rights Ammendment. I always began by showing the movie "How We Won the Vote". Then I spoke and opened it up for questions. Your facts are accurate.

    Actually all eligible to vote (young, old, members of any race, women, men) should exercise the right. Yes, we women suffered a great deal before we were allowed to vote, but in America we also had a revolution that first gave men the right and then the civil war, which eventually led to civil rights for African Americans and of course the fights you wrote about to give women the rights. Basically, we've all fought or been fought for. We NEED to vote. Fortunately in this election here in the U.S. there is a fantastic upswing in voter registration.

    I shall step off my soap box now and get a coffee...I'd fight for that too!!!

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  3. You know I'm there trying very hard to facilitate that very right. I am also the daughter of a soldier, and I know how horrific war can be, who fought for freedom. I cannot bring myself to not vote on that note alone, and your post just affirms yet another reason why my feet must continue to hurt so that we retain that right.

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  4. Great post. This really makes think and I agree that most of us that vote don't think about it being such a great privilege. Thanks for making us all think.

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