Why Women Should Vote

September 22, 2008

In the past week I received one e-mail (in slightly different versions) over a dozen times. Now I know I’m a natural target, but even so — a dozen?! With all that’s being said on the news, via the Internet, and in most women’s conversations concerning the influence of women in this election, I thought it worthwhile to pause and share “Why Women Should Vote.”

In case you are wondering if any of the following is “urban legend,” here’s a quick reference in About.com’s women’s history section, entitled Brutal Treatment of Women Suffragists at Occoquan Workhouse, indicating all was indeed true. The original e-mail was apparently written by Connie Schultz of The Plain Dealer, Cleveland.

I can’t help but add a link to AAUW’s Online Museum, given our own considerable history and efforts to get out the vote.

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WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE.

This is the story of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago.

Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The first suffrage picket line leaving the National Womans Party headquarters to march to the White House gates on January 10, 1917.

The first suffrage picket line leaving the National Woman’s Party headquarters to march to the White House gates on January 10, 1917.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote.

Lucy Burns

Lucy Burns

And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of “obstructing sidewalk traffic.”

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head, and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

Dora Lewis

Dora Lewis

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed, and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting, and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the “Night of Terror” on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right
to vote.

For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food — all of it colorless slop — was infested with worms.

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/prisoners.pdf

Alice Paul

Alice Paul

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat, and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because — why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work?

Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie Iron Jawed Angels. It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.

All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote. Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient.

My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was — with herself. “One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,” she said. “What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote? All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.” The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her “all over again.”

HBO released the movie on video and DVD. I wish all history, social studies, and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum. I want it shown on Bunco night, too, and anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.

It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy.

The doctor admonished the men: “Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.”

Please, if you are so inclined, pass this on to all the women you know.

We need to get out and vote and use this right that was fought so hard for by these very courageous women.

Christy Jones, CAE By:   |   September 22, 2008

3 Comments

  1. Cindy Pellegrino says:

    Thank you for letting me know how our vote was won.

  2. Carol Laffer Johnson says:

    I saw this HBO movie with Hillary Swank. Excellent movie…..I recommend it for everyone. We will never be able to honor these women enough.

  3. […] a friend forwarded an e-mail headed “Voting rights for women.”  The e-mail’s text reviewed the imprisonment and deplorable treatment of women who […]

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