Today, I, along with my husband and my daughter, C, will go to our county office building to vote early. Last spring, C turned 18. This past summer, she registered to vote. We have taught her it is not only a privilege, it is a right and a responsibility. And, as my parents did with each of their children, we’ve also told her she can not come home on election day until she has her “I voted” sticker. (Unless, of course, she goes to early voting with us.)
4 years ago, I went through the details in this email (below) with both of my daughters. I explained the proximity of this history. It was my grandmother who couldn’t vote at 18, their great-grandma. She was a trailblazer, for me, for them, for women everywhere, I explained. She helped give us the voice we have today. I reminded both girls to never lose sight of the sacrifices of the women that came so many years before them, and to never, ever waste an opportunity to have their voice heard.
I have not, nor will not, ask my daughter who she voted for or which way she marked her ballot on the initiatives. She’s a smart young woman and all I’ve asked is that she educate herself and vote her conscience. I know she feels both the weight of this responsibility and the excitement. Somewhere deep in my memory, I remember feeling the same when I first went to the polls. (The flutter is still there today.) My C is 18 now, an adult by “legal standards”, yet still so much my little girl. However, today, I see her only as a woman making her voice heard by exercising a right fought for and won by women just like her feisty great-grandmother.
(I first offer a very humble disclaimer: I did not write nor put this together with the photos. This came to me via an email during the last presidential election. I was moved by it then, and am even more so moved today and I am grateful to its author, whoever he or she may be.)
This is the story ……
of our Mothers and Grandmothers who lived only 90 years ago.
The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.
Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.
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.
They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, 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.
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.
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?
(Mrs. Pauline Adams in the prison garb she wore while serving a 60 day sentence.)
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.
(Miss Edith Ainge, of Jamestown, New York )
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.
(Berthe Arnold, CSU graduate)
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/Bingo 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.
(Conferring over ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution at National Woman’s Party headquarters, Jackson Place , Washington , D.C.
Left to right: Mrs. Lawrence Lewis, Mrs. Abby Scott Baker, Anita Pollitzer, Alice Paul, Florence Boeckel, Mabel Vernon (standing, right))
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson (A Progressive Democrat) 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.’
(Helena Hill Weed, Norwalk , Conn. Serving 3 day sentence in D.C. prison for carrying banner, ‘Governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.’ )
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. Whether you vote democratic, republican or independent party – remember to vote.