Susan Brownwell Anthony met Elizabeth Cady Stanton in 1851. They fiercely loved what I got to do today. Neither lived to see women in the U.S. vote, a human right to which they devoted their lives. It was ratified 96 years ago, August 18, 1920, My grandmother, Amy Mildred Farley Hutchins, born in 1896, was 24 years old.
In my own childhood, I watched the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution fail, watched as state by state failed to ratify it. I remember what that felt like. I was standing in a grocery check-out line and saw the headline, “ERA FAILS” over a photo of a huge, cheering crowd. To say such a national event was not personal is to miss the fact that it was personal, and not only in the feeling of knowing myself as devalued that permeated me as I stood in line next to my mother, a moment against which I have had to fight in my most private self all my life. The failure of the ERA has also meant that each right gained during my lifetime has needed to be fought for separately and most remain permanently at risk: abortion, Title 9, even the right of a woman to wear pants in the workplace. This is the status quo that is embedded in our daughters still, no matter how much contemporary rhetoric suggests that feminism is no longer needed.
Women’s suffrage did not begin with Seneca Falls but has been part of U.S. history as long as the nation has existed. It is not over. Women gained the right to vote in Saudi Arabia only six months ago, in Dec 2015. Even in the U.S., though the right to vote became law in 1920, after the necessary 36 states ratified it, that right was still not ratified in six states when I was born. Mississippi, the last, ratified women’s right to vote in 1984.
If you have not seen the movie Suffragettes, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It is a feature film of relationships and events in the years preceding the women’s vote in England. At the end, as in the movie Selma, there is actual footage of the activists who were beaten en masse, the leaders imprisoned, bound, and force fed.
Voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton as the President of the United States, apart from her being the smartest and most humane among the candidates, is, indeed, “a woman thing.”
Voting today stands among the proud moments of my life.