Liberal Granny published an excellent diary on Saturday morning. She wrote of how touched she was when two little girls thanked her for fighting to give them equal rights.
Her words made me think of the many women, including the women in my own family, who had fought to give me the rights I enjoy today. Rights I - and other women - might easily lose if we are not willing to fight - and vote - in order to keep them.
The first person who came to mind was my great-great-grandmother, Shade. She is the subject of much family lore and legend, but the story I remember most clearly concerned the day that she, and several other women, chained themselves around a public fountain, protesting for the right to vote.
Shade was born in Sonoma County, California, in 1864. Her parents were pioneers who traveled West in covered wagons. Shade and her six siblings were raised on the Bishop family's sprawling ranch near Dry Creek.
I don't know if it was genetic or simply a product of their upbringing (no shrinking violet would survive long on a working ranch!), but all of the Bishop Sisters were intelligent and feisty - a real force to be reckoned with. They were ahead of their time. They knew their own worth, believed that they were equal to any man, and they were willing to fight to have that fact recognized.
Shade moved to Portland, Oregon, in the 1880s. She was eventually joined there by her younger sisters. Aunt Ann was a school teacher. While Aunt Flo, the baby of the family, was the first member of the Bishop family to graduate from college. All three were active in the cause of Women's Suffrage.
One day, after many long meetings, marches, and protests of one sort or another, a group of Suffragists came up with a plan to garner local press attention. During the afternoon, when most men would be out of the office and having their lunch, the women would go to a public place, form a circle around a large fountain and chain themselves together, making it more difficult for police to separate them. They knew arrest was inevitable.
Grandma Shade and her daughters were determined to take part.
Shade's husband, Richard, was a respected newspaper reporter. He agreed with Shade's cause, but not her methods. And what was worse, his employer abhorred Suffragists, referring to them as "wretched and unnatural women". Now, Richard was willing to fight for a good cause. He had exposed more than one corrupt wheeler-dealer in his day. Still, he didn't think it was appropriate for his wife and daughters to "make public spectacles" of themselves. And risking arrest? Out of the question! No, he advised, it would be better, much more sensible, to just continue with the women's meetings and lobby quietly for suffrage.
Shade wouldn't be deterred. She fought on. She picketed, she chained herself to those women around that fountain, and she was arrested. She did whatever she could to help further the cause of Women's Suffrage. She fought with her sisters, and her daughters, right there beside her.
It was no small task. The risks were very real.
Women of my generation often forget how much was endured by our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers before us, in order to gain equality.
Throughout the winter of 1917, Alice Paul and her followers in the National Women's Party picketed the White House. They stood silently at the gates, holding signs that said "Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?"...At first, the suffragists were politely ignored. But on April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. The suffragists' signs became more pointed. They taunted Wilson, accusing him of being a hypocrite. How could he send American men to die in a war for democracy when he denied voting rights to women at home? The suffragists became an embarrassment to President Wilson. It was decided the picketing in front of the White House must stop.
Spectators assaulted the picketers, both verbally and physically. Police did nothing to protect the women. Soon, the police began arresting the suffragists on charges of obstructing traffic.
Police arresting British suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in London
At first, the charges were dropped. Next, the women were sentenced to jail terms of just a few days. But the suffragists kept picketing, and their prison sentences grew. Finally, in an effort to break the spirit of the picketers, the police arrested Alice Paul. She was tried and sentenced to 7 months in prison.
Paul was placed in solitary confinement. For two weeks, she had nothing to eat except bread and water. Weak and unable to walk, she was taken to the prison hospital. There she began a hunger strike--one which others would join...In response to the hunger strike, prison doctors put Alice Paul in a psychiatric ward. They threatened to transfer her to an insane asylum. Still, she refused to eat. Afraid that she might die, doctors force fed her. Three times a day for three weeks, they forced a tube down her throat and poured liquids into her stomach. Despite the pain and illness the force feeding caused, Paul refused to end the hunger strike--or her fight for the vote...
A suffragette being force fed.
After 5 weeks in prison, Alice Paul was set free. The attempts to stop the picketers had backfired. Newspapers carried stories about the jail terms and forced feedings of the suffragists. The stories angered many Americans and created more support than ever for the suffrage amendment.
Grandma Shade, like so many women who fought for equality, was ridiculed, spat on, threatened with physical violence, called vile names, and finally, arrested. But it was worth it. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified.
In May, 1919, the necessary two-thirds vote in favor of the women suffrage amendment was finally mustered in Congress, and the proposed amendment was sent to the states for ratification. By July 1920, with a number of primarily southern states adamantly opposed to the amendment, it all came down to Tennessee. It appeared that the amendment might fail by one vote in the Tennessee house, but twenty-four-year-old Harry Burns surprised observers by casting the deciding vote for ratification. At the time of his vote, Burns had in his pocket a letter he had received from his mother urging him, "Don't forget to be a good boy" and "vote for suffrage." Women had finally won the vote.At the age of fifty-six, Grandma Shade was finally granted the right to vote.
Because of Shade, and Aunt Ann, and Aunt Flo - and so many others - I have the right to vote. How could I dishonor their memory by failing to do so?
Katja Von Garner, in her film about Alice Paul, gave Suffragists the name Iron-Jawed Angels - women who were not only beautiful, but strong as iron.
So, thank you, my Iron-Jawed Angels. Thank you for picketing in the rain, and the snow, and the summer heat. Thank you for withstanding the vile curses, the threats of physical violence, the actual physical violence, and the force-feedings. Thank you for enduring the indignity of being spat upon by strangers. Thank you for being willing to go even to prison to ensure that you, your daughters - and I - would one day have the right to vote. The right to be heard and recognized as an equal. You will never know me, but my life is better because of what you did, what you sacrificed, and for that I am eternally grateful. THANK YOU.
On behalf of all the women out there who now have the right to vote, the right to family planning and birth control, the right to work outside the home if we choose to, and the right to earn equal pay for that work -- THANK YOU.
From the bottom of my heart -- THANK YOU.
A scene from Iron-Jawed Angels depicting the suffragettes being attacked by Marines (and others) before Alice Paul was arrested.
Alabama - October 26, 2012
Alaska - October 6, 2012
Arizona - October 9, 2012
Arkansas - October 6, 2012
California - October 22, 2012
Colorado - October 9, 2012
Connecticut - October 23, 2012 (mailed) -- October 30, 2012 (in person)
Delaware - October 13, 2012
District of Columbia - October 9, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Florida - October 9, 2012
Georgia - October 6, 2012
Hawaii - October 9, 2012
Idaho - October 12, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Illinois - October 9, 2012
Indiana - October 9, 2012
Iowa - October 22, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Kansas - October 16, 2012
Kentucky - October 9, 2012
Louisiana - October 9, 2012
Maine - October 16, 2012 (by mail)- November 6, 2012 (in person)
Maryland - October 16, 2012
Massachusetts - October 17, 2012
Michigan - October 9, 2012
Minnesota - October 16, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Mississippi - October 6, 2012
Missouri - October 10, 2012
Montana - October 9, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Nebraska - October 19, 2012 (by mail) - October 26, 2012 (in person)
Nevada - October 16, 2012
New Hampshire- October 27, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
New Jersey Received 21 days before the election October 16, 2012
New Mexico Postmarked 28 days before the election October 9, 2012
New York - October 12, 2012
North Carolina - October 12, 2012. (by mail) - November 3 (in person)
North Dakota - North Dakota is the only state that does not have voter registration. ( http://www.nd.gov/... )
Ohio - October 9, 2012
Oklahoma - October 12, 2012
Oregon - October 16, 2012
Pennsylvania - October 9, 2012
Rhode Island - October 6, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
South Carolina - October 6, 2012
South Dakota - October 22, 2012
Tennessee - October 6, 2012
Texas - October 9, 2012
Utah - October 9, 2012 (by mail) - October 22 (in person or online)
Vermont - October 31, 2012
Virginia - October 15, 2012
Washington - October 6, 2012 (by mail) - October 29, 2012 (in person)
West Virginia - October 16, 2012
Wisconsin - October 17, 2012 (by mail) - November 6, 2012 (in person)
Wyoming - October 22, 2012 - November 6, 2012 (in person)
3:38 PM PT: Thank you so much to DKos Oregon, J Town and Community Spotlight for republishing my diary!