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Celebrating a century of suffrage

The 185,000 members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, including the Chief Senachwine Chapter, will celebrate in the upcoming months the century-old vote in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to pass a women’s suffrage amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The House voted approval on May 21, 1919, followed by the Senate on June 4, 1919.

Still, the proposed amendment had to be submitted to the states for ratification. On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee was the last of 36 states to vote for ratification. The 19th Amendment, granting American women the right to vote, also known as women’s suffrage, was officially adopted on Aug. 26, 1920. Thus ended almost a century of protest at both the state and national levels.

The struggle actually was highlighted at a meeting in Seneca Falls, N.Y., on July 19, 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke these revolutionary words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Stanton went on to list the grievances against men who deprived women from owning property, pursuing an education, suing for divorce, serving on juries and voting. She read her last resolution: “That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.”

Then passed 72 years of struggle before the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Meanwhile, women like Susan B. Anthony, Lucy Stone, Julia Ward Howe, Jane Addams and Chicago’s own Frances Willard joined the cause.

The first public protest for suffrage occurred during the national centennial celebration in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, when Anthony and others presented an updated Declaration of Rights to Acting U.S. Vice President Thomas W. Ferry. Female support poured in, but a proposal for women’s suffrage never reached the floor of the Senate until 1887 when it was soundly defeated.

However, women in the West gained suffrage in newly-formed states like Colorado and Idaho.

At the turn of the century, new suffrage leadership pushed for parades, pickets and marches to gain support for a women’s suffrage amendment. One of the largest was held on March 30, 1913, the day before President-elect Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration. Thousands of participants and spectators enjoyed the enormous parade until chaos broke out with rowdy onlookers attacking the marchers. One hundred women were injured, but interest resulted in an amendment presented to the Senate. It fell short by 11 votes.

Later, following protests in Lafayette Park in front of the White House, hundreds of women were arrested and sent to Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. There they endured beatings and horrendous conditions. When dozens went on hunger strikes, they were subjected to forced feedings and solitary confinement.

Meanwhile, World War I was raging in Europe. Women were recruited to support the war effort by serving abroad as nurses, switchboard operators and war relief volunteers plus filling at-home jobs left vacant by men in combat. Women bought and sold war bonds, sewed clothes for soldiers, and raised funds to the war effort. When Wilson reversed his stand by supporting a women’s suffrage amendment, he cited the role women had played in the war. The amendment presented in the Senate fell short by two votes.

Women then targeted re-election goals by opposing senators and representatives, many of whom ended losing their seats. Another depressing vote in early 1919, which went down to defeat by a single vote, was finally overcome in June 1919. The Susan B. Anthony Amendment, known today as the 19th Amendment, finally passed both Congressional houses.

That November nearly 10,000,000 women exercised their right to vote and elected Warren B. Harding by a landslide. The century-old struggle for women’s suffrage had been successful.

Submitted by Sharon Bittner, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Chief Senachwine Chapter.

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