Great American Documents: 19th Amendment, Women’s Right to Vote

A few years back, we traveled to San Diego in August.  We stayed in a B n’ B near Balboa Park.  Being on East Coast time, we helped open the local coffee shop, where we noticed a poster for a Women’s Suffrage parade and swing dance, in the park that weekend.  We arranged our touring for the day to catch the parade of flappers and dapperly suited women and men, along with antique cars.  With placards for Women’s Right to Vote, and flyers for the dinner-dance, we had a date for the night.  The buffet dinner was tasty and the jazz hot and swinging.  The party emphasized more of the flaunting & thwarting of the 1920’s prohibition, rather than the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.

When I think of the 1840’s in the colonial world and emerging nations, the social issue I think of is slavery.  Women’s suffrage I think of originating out of the later 19th century.  But, the movement started in 1848 when two women, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, from the USA attended a conference on abolition in London, but were denied time to speech, because they were women.  They returned to Seneca Falls, New York and organized the Women’s Rights Convention.  While their objectives broadly covered civil, economic, and domestic rights for women, the movement took on women’s right to vote as a tangible change to struggle for.  Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote in the 1872 election, arguing that under the 14th Amendment included her as a citizen.  When Wyoming, Idaho, Colorado, and Utah joined the USA, they gave women the franchise to vote in state and local elections.  President Woodrow Wilson initially scoffed at Alice Paul’s Silent Sentinals protests in Washington, D. C. in the early 20th century, but acquiesced and signed the 19th Amendment, August 18th, 1920.

The amendment’s phrasing is remarkably simple (I have edited out all the legal stuff about dates and in this congress, etc): “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged the United States on account of sex.”  That last clause “on account of sex” brings out an irony: while attempting to be inclusive, by offering voting rights to genetically half of society, it also initiated the phrasing that so divides us today because of special interest group identification.  “On account of sex”, had added attachment of “race”, “religion”, “sexual orientation”, with “family constellation”,  “genetic composition”, “unborn status”, “economic status”, “education opportunity”, “species affiliation”, “food preferences”, etc. lining up for consideration.  While various groups claim to represent the rights of each niche affiliation, they emphasize the group’s inherent value with the implication that they deserve some appropriation of resources.  There is little unity of the greater citizenry, when many factions vie for power and position.

How do these themes of inclusion and special interest division relate to voting?  In my conspiracy theory, incumbent politicians and politic parties in general do not really want broad voter activity on election day.  Apathetic or annoyed citizens tend to stay away from the polls.  When this occurs, the stalwart voters of that party tend to win the election because they show up.  Special interest groups tend to fragment the voters, as they congregate into this or that camp, without a larger view of how to govern our society.  I am not surprised that our current presidential election cycle rhetoric is so vicious.  Both parties are pulled further toward their extreme views.  There are fewer areas of common interest and compromise.  Meanwhile, all the special interest group, and now Super-PAC negative advertising, promote more apathy and annoyance with the political process.

As we head into the Republican and Democrat Conventions (yawn… don’t we already know each party’s positions?  We even know both VP’s… what is left for interest?), how many are already leaning toward voting with the majority (i.e. the majority of citizens who do not vote)?  The women of the suffrage movement protested for 72 years before being granted the right to vote.  After 98 more years, how many of us are about to give up this right?

At the Women’s Suffrage dinner-dance, we sat at a table with total strangers.  Part way through the night, the woman across the table mentioned that this was the first public outing she had taken since her husband died a couple of years earlier.  What a metaphor: to re-enter society at an event about women having rights to decide about their lives.

The table is set.  Will you pull up a chair and vote to participate on election day?

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About hermitsdoor

Up here in the mountains, we have a saying, "You can't get there from here", which really means "We wouldn't go the trouble to do that". Another concept is that "If you don't know, we ain't telling." For the rest, you'll have to read between the lines.
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10 Responses to Great American Documents: 19th Amendment, Women’s Right to Vote

  1. Barneysday says:

    The hypocracy of the parties on both sides makes the ideals of democracy they loudly espouse a sham. Voter ID laws are about splintering votes, as you imply. Nothing more than the old poll taxes to prevent groups from voting. I have seen pieces where the undecided vote is less than 5%, and that’s what both groups are fighting for.

    Great post

  2. The Vicar says:

    It’s amazing how hard people can fight for something, but once it’s been acheived apathy sets in. I still vote, however I rarely find a candidate that I’m excited about. I’m not even sure I could identify a galvinizing issue that that would unify the country. Older generations seem to want to keep social security or pensions, younger generations want to keep the govenment from collecting taxes on internet purchases (I’m sure the honor system is working just fine for each state). The boomers want to know who will care for mom and dad, and today’s youth wonder why they have to talk to real people at all.

    Maybe instead of voting we could “like” a candidate on Facebook. Then we could do away with archaic practices such as ballots, electoral colleges, political parties…..

    I’m cynical not apathetic! 🙂

    • hermitsdoor says:

      Generations constantly change our social perspective. We attended a wedding yesterday, at which the bridge and groom played Rock-Scissors-Paper to determine who would give their vows first! That was right up there with another episode of the Care Pastor. We shall soon be worrying about who will be leading our country and caring for us in our dottage.

    • I like your “like” idea. I hope you start a petition. I’ll sign it.

  3. Just got back from yoga, and feel so relaxed – maybe if elections were more soothing, like yoga, people would want to go vote.

  4. Mother Suzanna says:

    Okay, all you “young people”, get with the program! I’m fired up about the Presidential Debates coming up in October after watching an interview with Jim Lehrer on PBS NewsHour. He’s moderated 11 of the 35 presidential debates and has written a book, “Tension City:Inside the Presidential Debates from Kennedy-Nixon to Obama-McCain”. Well, worth a read! He was invited to meet with the Debate Commission last spring. Out of this meeting came a new format for the debates and just the way he said, “It’s TERRIFIC!” made me want to watch the debates. He liked this new format so much, he in coming out of retirement to moderate the first Debate on Oct. 3. Having read the book, I have LOTS I’ll be watching for in all four debates. So, “Get With the Program” and be a smart watcher. We’re not done with “due process” yet!
    P.S. I was also there that night of the suffrage march celebration. The nicest thing I got was the spaghetti bowl.

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