Capital City Today
By: S.L. Frisbie, IV for Polk News-Sun
Women’s suffrage: a centennial
It seems hard to believe that only 100 years ago, women in America did not have the right to vote.
Okay, to be strictly correct, 100 years and one week ago.
On Aug. 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, the women’s suffrage amendment.
The vote in Tennessee’s Legislature was 50 to 46, tipping the scales to meet the required three-fourths of the states to ratify an amendment.
As remarkable as it seems today that a century ago half of all of Americans were ineligible to vote because of their gender, more recent barriers to equal opportunity are fresher in our memories.
My generation can remember when few if any women held elective office, were police officers, preached from pulpits, commanded military units, or held any number of other positions that women now hold.
Today, a woman of a minority race and ethnic heritage is within striking distance of becoming vice-president of the United States, and may well be in line to become president within four years, or eight.
A series of articles in The New York Times last week recounted some of the major and a few little known milestones in the extension of the vote to women.
While birth of the women’s suffrage movement is generally traced to July 1848 with a gathering of activists in Seneca Falls, NY, there were isolated areas where women’s voting had existed for many years.
New Jersey’s first constitution in 1776 guaranteed the right to vote to “all free, property-owning residents” without regard to race or gender. That right ended in 1807.
When the territory of Wyoming was being considered for annexation into the United States in 1889, territorial officials insisted that the right of its women to vote — established in 1869 — be retained.
Susan B. Anthony and other early suffragists successfully campaigned for women’s right to vote in western states beginning in 1866.
In 1872, Anthony was arrested for voting in Rochester, NY. She was pardoned by President Trump last week.
The vote was extended to Black men by the 15th Amendment in 1870, but it was half a century later before women got the same right.
In 1913, The New York Times declared: “The benefits of woman suffrage are almost wholly imaginary. Its penalties will be real and hard to bear.”
It boggles the imagination to think of a newspaper publishing such an opinion today.
But in the pre-suffrage days, there also were women who opposed extension of the right to vote to themselves, believing that voting would be unladylike.
Campaigners for women’s suffrage also embraced issues ranging from abolition and temperance to workers’ rights, workplace safety, and child-labor protections.
Among the most ardent supporters were women who moved to the United States from other countries who could vote in their native land but not in their new home.
A group of women calling themselves the Silent Sentinels demonstrated in front of the White House six days a week for two years, calling for the right to vote.
The Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage published a weekly newspaper —
The Suffragist — from 1913 to 1921.
Today there are 26 women in the United States Senate, 101 women in the House of Representatives, and nine women governors of states.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. He has been voting since he became eligible 58 years ago, and hasn’t missed an election. As best he can remember.)
Reprinted with permission of Polk News-Sun