Skip to content

Column: The forgotten fight for women’s suffrage

August 25, 2010

On Tuesday, we offered an editorial calling on the public to mark this month’s celebration of the 90th anniversary of women’s suffrage by heading to the polls in November. There’s no better way to recognize past struggles to secure such an important right by recognizing it as a duty of citizenship.

As Christine Stansell noted in Tuesday’s New York Times, the push for women’s suffrage, which brought about the largest enfranchisement in our country’s history, is often viewed as inevitable though the view was quite different in 1920.

From Stansell’s column

In the ensuing decades (following the Civil War, the nation backpedaled from the equal-rights guarantees of the 14th and 15th amendments. Black voters in the South were refused federal protection, and even in the North and West, literacy tests and educational requirements were used to turn immigrants and laborers away from the polls. The suffrage movement itself embraced anti-immigrant and anti-black views. In 1903 in New Orleans, at their annual convention, suffragists listened to speakers inveigh against the Negro menace. Black suffragists met far across town. (An elderly Susan B. Anthony paid them a respectful call.) It was the nadir of the women’s movement.

Even after the 19th amendment was backed by President Woodrow Wilson and pushed through Congress over opposition, it was far from a done deal, Stansell notes.

Thirty-six of the 48 states then needed to ratify it. Western states did so promptly, and in the North only Vermont and Connecticut delayed. But the segregated South saw in the 19th Amendment a grave threat: the removal of the most comprehensive principle for depriving an entire class of Americans of full citizenship rights. The logic of women’s disenfranchisement helped legitimize relegating blacks to second-class citizenship.

Female voters would also pose practical difficulties, described bluntly by a Mississippi man: “We are not afraid to maul a black man over the head if he dares to vote, but we can’t treat women, even black women, that way. No, we’ll allow no woman suffrage.”

Give Stansell’s column a read to learn more about this struggle that is often overlooked, and commemorate that struggle this Thursday in Owensboro during an event downtown. Here are the details –

The “Votes for Women” celebration will be held at noon Thursday starting at City Hall, 101 E. Fourth St. and finishing at Fourth and Allen streets with a program on the Daviess County Courthouse lawn at the flagpole.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: