Guest column from LWV: Men and women fought 19th Amendment

  • PAT LEUCHTMAN

Published: 7/2/2020 5:31:38 PM
Modified: 7/2/2020 5:31:28 PM

One hundred years ago, on Aug. 18, 1920, Congress passed the 19th Amendment and gave women the right to vote. Why did it take so long?

It is hard to know when women started grumbling about being considered inferior to men and not able to vote. We do know that it was Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott who brought the issue out into the open when they organized The Seneca Falls Convention in July 1848. The women — and men — who attended wrote the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances, which is modeled closely on the Declaration of Independence.

They proclaimed “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” They passed 12 resolutions that would give women equality including the right to vote.

In 1850 Stanton met Susan B. Anthony, who was an abolitionist, and the two women began a lasting working friendship. Both women fought for the end of slavery, for temperance and for women’s right to vote. They created a weekly newspaper, The Revolution, with its motto “Men their rights, and nothing more; women their rights, and nothing less.”

Victoria Woodhull ran for the U.S. presidency on the Equal Rights Party ticket in 1872. She was arrested a few days before the election, and she received no votes. Susan B. Anthony actually dismissed all rules and voted illegally in the 1872 election. She was arrested and fined, but she never paid the $100.

There were men and women who objected to a woman’s right to vote. They had all kinds of reasons. They declared that women were the weaker sex. They stated that women had smaller brains than men and could not understand political issues. Husbands should represent them. They said women did not fight wars, so they should not vote. Women bore children and had to take care of them properly which gave them no time for voting. Women did not have time and strength for childcare, housekeeping and civic duties.

While there were many objections to women’s suffrage, there was little organized resistance. However, in 1882, women in Massachusetts formed an anti-suffrage committee. The function of this committee was to gather signatures for their forceful protests called “remonstrances,” against “the imposition of any political duties upon women.”

In 1895 The Massachusetts Association Opposed to the Further Extension of Suffrage to Women was founded by Mrs. J. Eliot Cabot and others. Their position was that women had to understand that suffrage for women was more than political. Voting concerned the nature and structure of all society, home, church, the state and social fabric. Women’s functions in these spheres are different than men’s and all talk of equality or non- equality are just idle words.

Fortunately those thoughts and fights did not win the day.

In 1920, the 19th Amendment, which stated that “the rights of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” passed both houses of Congress and was sent to the states for ratification. Eight days later, the 19th Amendment took effect.

Stanton, Mott and Anthony did not live to cast their ballots. Of course, many other women joined in their fight, many will remain nameless. Younger women fighting for suffrage did get to vote, including Helen Keller and Margaret Sanger.

We members of the League of Women Voters are proud to say that the League was formed on Feb. 14, 1920 by the suffragists of the National American Woman Suffrage Association. The League’s purpose, then and now, is to help all people carry out their responsibilities as voters.

Pat Leuchtman is a member of the League of Women Voters of Franklin County.

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