Local women share voting memories

Staff Writer
Published: 7/3/2020 4:23:44 PM
Modified: 7/3/2020 4:23:32 PM

GREENFIELD — Though no women are alive today who can speak about voting when the 19th Amendment gave them that right 100 years ago, there are those who have stories to share from their mothers, grandmothers and aunts, plus their own experiences.

At 90, Greenfield resident Estelle Cade said she remembers her parents going to vote in 1932 — when she was just 4 years old.

“My parents asked a neighbor to come and stay with me while they went out,” Cade said. “‘Where are you going?’ I asked. My father explained in simple words. ‘We are going to vote.’ I asked what that was and he said, ‘We’re going to choose who we’d like to be president of our country.’”

She said she knows her parents were lifelong Republicans and would have voted for Herbert Hoover at the time.

Cade said she didn’t remember when her mother voted in her first election.

“But I know as soon as she could have, she did,” Cade said. “(My mother), her older sister and their mother lived together. I remember my aunt was vocal about women’s issues. She was a businesswoman. She worked at a lawyer’s office and knew what was going on politically.

Likewise, Cade doesn’t remember when she first voted herself.

“You take it for granted,” she said. “I thought women always did.”

Appreciating an ‘amazing privilege’

Similarly, Janet Keyes, 79, of Greenfield, said she can remember her mother saying how important it was to vote.

“She did not reach age 21 until 1929, so the first national election in which she could vote was in 1932,” Keyes recalled. “I remember being very interested in politics when I was 12, listening to the Democratic and Republican conventions for hours at a time in the summer of 1952. At that time, Mom mentioned that she had yet to vote for a winner in a national election, and she was then 44.”

Keyes said her mother was troubled that “the younger generation was missing the action and not truly able to appreciate the workings of democracy.” So, Keyes looked forward to the day she could vote herself.

She was too young to vote when President John Kennedy was elected in 1960. But the next year, Keyes registered to vote — a memory she recalls with detail.

“I found my way to the town clerk’s office, where I produced identification and signed some paperwork regarding my address,” she said. “Then the town clerk had me put my hand on a Bible and ‘swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, so help me God.’”

Years later, accompanying her son, Keyes said she was disappointed to find the process was done away with.

“Perhaps this magic moment was a factor in my dismay when my 18-year-old son was turning in his temporary junior driver’s license at the Registry of Motor Vehicles to get his permanent adult license, and a lady casually asked, ‘You wanna register to vote?’” Keyes recalled. “My son replied, ‘Yeah.’ Done deal. The amazing privilege of voting is somehow not appreciated by the younger generation, and history lessons from teachers and grandparents cannot convey the joy of this responsibility. I am very thankful for the brave women who fought so many years ago for women’s suffrage.”

Exercising their civic duty

Dolly Arsenault, a 76-year-old Greenfield resident, said her mother was born the year before women could vote.

“Perhaps that was why she took her civic duty seriously,” she said. “I was only 15 when she died just shy of her 40th birthday. I never had a chance to discuss the woman’s vote with her or my grandmother, who died a short while before my mother. However, I do know that both women were great readers and well-informed on local, state and federal issues. They always voted. My mother did laughingly tell us that while she was in the hospital, a politician came to her bedside and had her sign an absentee ballot. As sick as she was, she did.”

Like Keyes, Arsenault’s parents would have conversations at the dinner table about local and world affairs.

“I never knew how they voted or their political party,” Arsenault said. “Such adult things weren’t discussed with children back then. My only hint that they were Democrats happened long after my mother’s death. My sisters and I came across an invitation my mother had received to attend a tea to meet the Massachusetts Congressional candidate, John F. Kennedy. My older sister believes my mother went to the tea and kept the invitation as a memento.”

Hope for the future

Looking to the future, both Arsenault and Cade said they hope a woman will be elected president someday.

“How amazed my mother and grandmother would’ve been to see Hillary Clinton get nominated; how disappointed (I imagine) they would’ve felt when she didn’t win. Then, I believe, their hopes would’ve been hoisted once again when so many women ran for the 2020 election,” Arsenault said. “While it appears we will again have two male contenders for the presidency this year, hope does spring eternal. At 76, I hope to live long enough to see a woman president.”

“We have women running big companies, piloting planes and managing large budgets,” Cade said. “Women sometimes have more common sense about running things. I may not live long enough to see (a woman become president), but I hope I do.”


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