Friday, October 17, 2008

Women and Voting

I am not one to talk politics, I feel it is an intensely personal and private thing, but since we are approaching an important presidential election, and so many of the issues are dear to all of us (health care anyone?!!) I wanted to talk about voting. Awhile back I received an e-mail about women and the right to vote. In it was discussed a lot of what the early suffragists went through for us to be given this right. It also talked about the movie 'Iron Jawed Angels', put out by HBO, which chronicled the suffragettes struggles. I am ashamed to say, I wasn't aware of any of the facts I read about. I wasn't taught this history in school. I hope that by now this has changed, but I fear it probably hasn't. I haven't had the chance to see 'Iron Jawed Angels', although I am Netflixing it to see before the election. I can't speak for the accuracy of everything contained in the e-mail and I can't credit the author, because there was no name given. I would like to provide some of the substance of the e-mail here, in the hopes that if you, like me, were unaware of what these women went through for us to gain the right to vote, that learning just a little more about them might make you appreciate this right even more! If you are aware of this part of history, please take the time before the election to get the word out to other women who might not be aware, we owe these women at least that much! If anyone has knowledge of the author of the e-mail, please let me and I will gladly publish that information here as well. In the meantime, get a copy of 'Iron Jawed Angels' and learn something about American history you might not have known!

The original e-mail went as follows:


"This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the 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 cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, twisting and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on November 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 this way for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press."

The author goes on to speak about how she was unaware of this history and the need to make others aware:

"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?

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.

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.

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 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.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to call Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to see 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'.

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to to all the women who 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. History is being made."

That ends the text of the e-mail. There were pictures of some of the suffragists included that I was unable to bring into the post. Again, I can't take credit for, or guarantee the complete accuracy of the e-mail text, but it is something to think about this election season. Please make your voice heard!

1 comment:

Jeanne said...


If you ever get the opportunity to visit The National Women's Hall Of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY... I know you would like it.

If that is geographically impossible, here is a website you might enjoy:

It's amazing! There is so much that was not covered when I went to school!!