Remember the Ladies:
Celebrating Those Who Fought for Freedom at the Ballot Box
ANGELA P. DODSON
Interesting Facts and Talking Points
- Founding Mother: Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, at the Second Continental Congress in 1776: I long to hear that you have declared an independency—and by the way in the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies, and be more generous and favourable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
- Early Women’s Suffrage: In the state constitution adopted by New Jersey in 1776, all adult residents, including women, who owned a specified amount of property could vote. That right ended in 1807 when the legislature suddenly discovered a need to reinterpret the constitution and passed a law stripping women of the vote and limiting it to white, male, taxpaying adult citizens.
- Historic Convention: In July 1848, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martha Wright, and nearly three hundred other women and men, including the abolitionist editor Frederick Douglass, gathered for a convention at Seneca Falls, New York. It became an early high-water mark in the struggle for women’s rights, including the right to vote.
- Organizing in an Age Before Mass Communication: Meeting face-to-face was necessary because people had few ways to communicate in the nineteenth century, except by letter or by reading the newspapers. Regular use of telegrams would come later. So people were not in frequent contact of any kind. The conventions presented opportunities to hear what others thought and to share ideas.
- The Civil War: During the great conflict, women learned that they had many interests outside the home. Working in camps and hospitals, or keeping the home fires burning, they saw how intimately the interests of the State and the home were intertwined. War and all its concomitants were subjects of legislation, so it was only through a voice in the laws that their efforts for peace could command consideration. Optimistic that their own victory was at hand, they soon learned they had been naïve in their assumption that, after the war, their government would act justly in return and grant women the vote.
- The Temperance Movement: Many of the women and men involved in the women’s movement got their start in the reform arena through the temperance movement, and many were active simultaneously in both. The temperance movement was an organized effort to encourage abstinence from or moderation in the consumption of intoxicating beverages, especially hard liquor. It took root in this country early in the nineteenth century, not so much out of moral or religious concerns but out of practical ones.
- Men: The women’s suffrage movement had the support of some prominent men, including Henry Ward Beecher, Frederick Douglass, and Aaron Augustus Sargent, who introduced the first women’s suffrage amendment in Congress.
- The Susan B. Anthony Amendment: With its declaration that, “The right 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. a precursor to Nineteenth Amendment was passed by the House of Representatives and finally, on December 8, 1886, the bill made it to the Senate floor for debate. The debate resumed on January 25, 1887, and it was roundly defeated 34–16 (with 26 marked absent).
- Breakthrough: Hope came in late 1869 when the Wyoming Territory’s legislature passed a bill giving women over twenty-one the right to vote in all elections.
- 15th Amendment: After the ratification of the amendment that gave former (male) slaves the right to vote, some advocates argued that the amendment also extended the vote to women. Some women in various places began testing the laws by registering and voting. Women in Vineland, New Jersey, had attempted it on the presidential Election Day, November 19, 1868, but had to cast ballots in a separate box. One hundred seventy-two women voted, including four blacks, but the votes were not counted.
- Women’s March: A women’s suffrage procession in Washington, D.C. in March 1913, the day before Woodrow Wilson’s inauguration (similar to the march following Donald Trump’s this year) was the beginning of a campaign to sway the new president to change his mind about supporting women’s right to vote.
- Victory: In 1917, New York State passed a suffrage amendment that paved the way for national suffrage.
- A Long Struggle: When women won full voting rights under the U.S. Constitution in 1920, only one woman who attended the historic gathering of the founding members of the movement in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 was alive to see it.
- Today: A greater proportion of women than men has voted in every presidential election since 1980. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, in 2012, 63.7 percent of women and 59.8 percent of men reported voting.
- Legacy: Since 1917, women have been elected to Congress from every state and territory except Mississippi, Northern Mariana Islands, and Vermont.