Most people don't realize the struggle American women faced to earn the right to vote.
March is Women's History Month
Women's suffrage advocates waged a hard fought war for decades to earn American women the right to vote. Some of you may know that many suffragists were also abolitionist. Many of them felt ignored and abandoned when abolitionist movement leaders accepted the language of the 14th Amendment that sought to ensure "male inhabitants" had the right to vote (the first time the word "male" entered the Constitution), and once again women had been felt out in the cold.
In November of 1872, Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women were arrested for attempting to vote in Rochester, New York. Anthony was the only woman brought to trial. This is the only case I am aware of where someone was actually tried in the United States for being a woman. In the prosecution's opening statements, he argued Anthony was guilty of voting illegally because "At that time she was a woman". The judge was staunchly opposed to women voting. He shocked the nation when he denied Anthony the right to take the stand in her own defense and actually instructed the jury to find her guilty. Even some who were against women's suffrage were shock at the complete disregard for Anthony's right to a fair trial by jury. At sentencing, a determined Anthony uttered her famous words "resistance to tyranny is obedience to God".
The struggle continued for decades:
In 1914 WWI began, many thought it unseemly of women to continue to press for the right to vote with war looming, but many suffragist pressed on unwilling to halt the battle again as they had during the Civil War only to be forgotten in the aftermath. After all when asking Congress to declare war, President Wilson himself proclaimed "we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts--for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments". It did not go unnoticed by the suffragist that this was a right which American women had been denied.
In 1917 Alice Paul and her followers began standing outside the White House holding banners directed at President Woodrow Wilson. One such banner read
"Kaiser Wilson Have you forgotten your sympathy with the poor Germans because they were not self-governed? 20,000,000 American women are not self-governed. Take the beam out of your own eye."
Eventually police began arresting the women for "obstructing traffic", and they were ultimately sent to the Occoquan Workhouse. The conditions there were deplorable, and the women suffered brutal treatment. One workhouse employee would later testify that
"The beans, hominy, rice, corn meal . . . and cereal have all had worms in them. Sometimes the worms float on top of the soup. Often they are found in the corn bread."
And even worse came on November 15, 1917 known as the Night of Terror:
Under orders from W. H. Whittaker, superintendent of the Occoquan Workhouse, as many as forty guards with clubs went on a rampage, brutalizing thirty-three jailed suffragists. They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her there for the night. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate Alice Cosu, who believed Mrs. Lewis to be dead, suffered a heart attack. According to affidavits, other women were grabbed, dragged, beaten, choked, slammed, pinched, twisted, and kicked. (source: Barbara Leaming, Katherine Hepburn (New York: Crown Publishers, 1995), 182.)
Eventually news of the women's treatment created such an outcry that even the White House called for their release. In the face of such an uproar, Woodrow Wilson had no choice but the lend his support to the 19th Amendment to grant women the right to vote. This was just the catalyst the Amendment needed, and women finally gained the right to vote in 1920. Almost 133 years after the Constitution was adopted.
Unfortunately our history books do little to teach us about all the many women who sacrificed, suffered, and fought for the right to vote that all American women enjoy today. We honor their memory and renew their voice each time we vote. So no excuses ladies.... GET OUT AND VOTE!