Guest column from LWV: Women’s suffrage 100 years later

  • LOUISE AMYOT

Published: 7/2/2020 5:21:59 PM

In writing the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers gave to the individual states the power to decide who should be allowed to vote. The states, in turn, gave voting rights to white men of property and education. In 1870, voting rights were extended by the 15th Amendment to include other men, including poor whites and African Americans though many states quickly created impediments, like poll taxes and literacy tests.

Through it all, women were excluded from having their say at the polls. But they were not silent.

The struggle for women’s suffrage was begun in the 1800s by such heroines as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and, later, Carrie Chapman Catt and Alice Paul. But it wasn’t until 1920, 100 years ago, that women finally achieved the right to vote.

The battle, however, was not fought exclusively by educated white women. Early on, it became clear to African American women that, as Adele Hunt Logan of Alabama wrote in the Colored American Magazine in 1905: “If white American women with all their natural and acquired advantages, need the ballot, how much more do Black Americans, men and women, need the strong defense of the vote to help secure them their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?”

Standing alongside them, white working-class women also joined the movement. From factory jobs to union membership to the right to vote, Irish, Italian and Jewish women joined their sisters in demanding this right of citizenship.

As the struggle ensued, women were shunned, sometimes beaten and even jailed for taking their demands to the streets. For women in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, it was an act of bravery to publicly stand, march, speak and/or write their demand for recognition as equal human beings (at the ballot box, anyway). Their suffering and their tenacity paved the way for women today and we owe it to them to recognize that we stand on their backs every time we vote!

Yet in spite of all the dedication and sacrifice made on our behalf, many Americans ignore this right. For the 2016 presidential election, only 55% of voting age adults went to the polls. We know, of course, that in some states many people had their right to vote taken from them when their state or local governments removed their names from rolls, closed polls, left IDs unrecognized, and more. For those who suffered from these Constitutional violations, it must seem inconceivable that as many of the 45% of adults who could have voted didn’t. Experience shows that a single vote has decided the outcome of some races and, yet, even in 2008, our best year in recent memory, when Barack Obama brought out many new folks, the voting rate was only 64%!

2020 is again a presidential election year and one that seems to be more important that any in our lifetime. The right to vote was hard won for us. Voting should be a sacred duty for all who value democracy, freedom, and having some control over their lives.

We owe it to the women who came before us to study the candidates and the issues, to give them great thought and to choose the candidate we honestly believe will be the best for the country. We owe it to ourselves to exercise this right so that we might never lose it and we owe it to our children to keep the reality alive, to ensure with our vote that our Constitution will continue to guarantee for us and for them, the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Louise Amyot is a member of the League of Women Voters of  Franklin County.


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