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Tuesday, July 13, 2010


(Official Program - Woman Suffrage Procession, or parade, in Washington on March 13, 1913, by American artist Benjamin Dale; inspired by many images of the medieval woman warrior Joan of Arc, 1412?-1431, going into battle on her steed)

American women finally won the right to vote in all elections when Congress ratified the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution ninety years ago next month, on August 18, 1920.

The first legal vote cast by a woman had taken place in 1756, under British rule, but it was an anomaly. That year, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, the town’s wealthiest landlord and taxpayer died. Captain Josiah Taft left no male heirs of adult age. Mindful of the principle of “no taxation without representation” and facing the important question of support for the French and Indian Wars, the open town meeting allowed his widow, Lydia Chapin Taft, to vote on behalf of the estate.

In the years following, the women’s cause moved slowly, step by step. Some jurisdictions allowed women to vote in limited local elections. Others would grant them suffrage, only to rescind it later.

The women persevered. As they spoke out for the abolition of slavery, so too did they argue for women’s suffrage.

One of the “most unique and interesting speeches” of the Women’s Convention held in Akron, Ohio, in 1851, was made by Sojourner Truth, an emancipated slave. Marius Robinson wrote about her speech that day in an issue of the
Anti-Slavery Bugle. She spoke with humor and even some sarcasm: “The poor men seem to be all in confusion, and don’t know what to do. Why children, if you have women’s rights, give it to her and you will feel better. You will have your own rights, and they won’t be so much trouble. I can’t read, but I can hear. I have heard the bible and have learned that Eve caused man to sin. Well, if woman upset the world, do give her a chance to set it right side up again.”


Said Mr. Jones in Nineteen-Ten:
“Women, subject yourselves to men.”
Nineteen-Eleven heard him quote:
“They rule the world without the vote.”
By Nineteen-Twelve, he would submit
“When all the women wanted it.”
By Nineteen-Thirteen, looking glum,
He said that it was bound to come.
This year I heard him say with pride:
“No reasons on the other side!’
By Nineteen-Fifteen, he’ll insist
He’s always been a suffragist.
And what is really stranger, too,
He’ll think that what he says is true.

~ Alice Duer Miller (1874-1942), American poet

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