EAST CHATHAM, N.Y.
Tomorrow is Election Day. With the new HAVA (Help America Vote Act of 2002) laws, nearly everyone -- men, women, blacks, Hispanics, new citizens, the physically impaired, the homebound -- any citizen over the age of 18, now has the right and opportunity to vote. This was not always so. Women achieved the right to vote in 1920 after nearly 70 years of organizing and lobbying, protesting and marching.
In 1848, the Seneca Falls Convention established the "Declaration of Principles" that echoed the Declaration of Independence. "We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men and women are created equal...." Women wanted the same rights as men including the right to be educated, to teach, to earn a living and to vote.
For decades, suffragettes were loud and clear about what they wanted. Throughout the 19th century, great strides were made. By the 1840s, women were allowed to own their own property and were no longer considered the property of their husbands. But to have a real say in the political and economic world in which they lived, to have a modicum of control of their lives and livelihoods, women needed to secure the right to vote.
The convention was the beginning of this uphill struggle. Organizations such as the National American Women Suffrage Association (NAWSA) were formed to spread the word to all, especially to voting men who ultimately had the power to elect certain individuals to government in order to pass laws giving women the right to vote.
As the women's movement gained strength across the country, opposition organizations cropped up, including the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage (NAOWS) started in 1911 by one of our own, a woman in New York City, a Mrs. Josephine Dodge. Mrs. Dodge, married to a wealthy capitalist, poured her money and heart into creating pamphlets that littered the city. She firmly believed that a woman's place was in the home and to influence politics all you had to do was influence your voting man. Giving a girl the vote got you nowhere!
I recently came across one of her yellowed fliers: The Truth About Wage-Earning Women. In a very skewed and illogical way, Dodge, by this time a widow with six children, tries to tell the public why giving the vote to women would be a terrible idea. It is written as a primer to refute the suffragette statement: "That there are 8,000,000 wage-earning women who need the ballot for their protection."
The pamphlet divides the eight million-plus working women over the age of 10 (!) into wage-earners and non-wage earners. For some unfathomable reason, business and professional woman and female agricultural workers were not considered wage-earners, so they did not need to vote to protect their jobs!
Then, the pamphlet goes on to claim that the wage-earners in occupations covered by labor laws (factories, laundries, stores, hotels, etc.) also did not need the right to vote "because they would be in the minority even if they could and would vote. No need to vote if your vote doesn't count for much!"
Thus far, the pamphlet has, in a peculiar way, explained why two-thirds of all working women do not need to vote, nor would it be helpful if they were able to. Of the remaining third, Dodge eliminates all those who are not yet 21, the minimum voting age in the 19th century. She reduces the number of women who might benefit from voting to about 15 percent of the eight million. But then she claims that half of this 15 percent are domestic workers who, since they are working in private homes, should be able to improve their conditions and wages without recourse to the ballot. Mrs. Dodge was no scullion.
Another handout from the NAOWS states bold and brazen reasons why to vote NO on woman suffrage. "Ninety percent of the women either do not want the vote or do not care." "The vote means competition of women with men instead of co-operation." "A married woman's vote would only double or annul her husband's vote." And my favorite: "Some states would come under ‘petticoat rule'." Did anyone ever say that we were under "waistcoat rule?''
Dodge also claims that women in states that already have women suffrage are no better off than in male suffrage states. What states gave women the vote early on? The West: the Wyoming Territory gave us full voting rights in 1869; Colorado, in 1893, Utah and Idaho, in 1896, then, California and Oregon soon thereafter. Is this because of the rugged individualism so needed to survive in the Wild West? Plowgirls and cowgirls arguing tariffs and silver backed currency!
The eastern states finally started falling into line around 1912 or so, in spite of the widespread opposition by the likes of Mrs. Dodge. At long last, the suffering suffragettes were successful and the federal government passed the 19th amendment to our constitution in 1920 giving all the petticoated ones the right to vote.
Now women not only vote, but run for office and hold positions of power. Be sure to vote on Tuesday. May the best man -- or woman -- win!
Clellie Lynch is a regular Eagle