This March, I’d like to dedicate this post to the earliest suffragists — women who valiantly fought against patriarchal dominance for women’s rights — rights that the Declaration of Independence, drafted and signed by men, established as inherent to all members of humanity.
Of course, in 1776, “all men are created equal” did not include women — but that did not stop strong, wise, and intelligent women from asserting their voices in the public spaces of state and church — male dominated spaces — in order to be heard and to establish laws that protected the rights of women — rights that one should have no matter her sex, creed, beliefs, or religion. Here’s to the women who sacrificed so that we can have the rights that we have today:
Elizabeth Cady Stanton: The author of the Declaration of Sentiments, which boldly used the Declaration of Independence as a model for deserved yet denied rights of women merely because they were women. She wrote many of the impassioned speeches given by Susan B. Anthony at the conventions and was the driving force behind the First Women’s Rights Conventions which took place at Seneca falls in NY in 1848.
Lucretia Mott: Like most suffragists of her time, Mott was also an abolitionist of slavery and her home was one of the “stations” of the underground railroad. She was a Quaker minister, teacher, orator, and a leading member of the Suffragist movement. During her work as a teacher, she noticed that
the charge for the education of girls was the same as that for boys, and that when they became teachers, women received but half as much as men for their services…The injustice of this was so apparent … that I early resolved to claim for my sex all that an impartial Creator had bestowed.
Susan B. Anthony: Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s partner in crime, she helped found the American Equal Rights Organization in 1866. Against abortion, which was at that time lethal for women’s health, she wrote extensively about how the double standards of men and their laws forced women to endanger their lives in having abortions. About this issue, in 1869 she states, “When a woman destroys the life of her unborn child, it is a sign that, by education or circumstances, she has been greatly wronged.” Cool fact: in 1872 she voted in a presidential election when women were not allowed to vote, was found guilty and fined. She never paid the fine!
Alice Paul: Paul waged a militant-style war for her rights as a woman. She is the heroine depicted in the movie starring Hillary Swank, Iron-Jawed Maidens. She was the first woman ever to picket in front of the White House, was arrested 6 times, (3 in the US and 3 in England), went on hunger strikes while in prison and was force-fed. She was the original author of the 1923 Equal Rights Amendment, which still has not been ratified by 3 remaining states. Until those 3 states vote for it, it will not be considered part of the US Constitution. She received a law degree in the 1920′s.
Carrie Chapman Catt: Suffragist and pacifist, she campaigned for the nineteenth amendment of the Constitution — the equal rights amendment — and founded the the League of Women‘s Voters. A brilliant woman, she graduated from Iowa State in three years, Valedictorian of her class, and the ONLY woman. Aside from her role in the suffrage movement, she was superintendent of schools in Iowa. In 1855. WOW. Most superintendents of schools today are men. Again — WOW!
Sojourner Truth: Sojourner Truth is one of my favorites, and I teach her “Ain’t I a Woman” speech given at the 1851 Ohio Women’s Rights Convention every semester. An African-American Abolitionist and women’s rights advocate, she was a slave who escaped with her daughter in 1826. What a woman! Interesting fact: Truth was the first Black woman to take a white man to court — and she won: After she had run away, her 5-year-old son had been illegally sold to an abusive land owner in Alabama, and she sued him to get her son back. She was successful!
Lucy Burns: Met up with Alice Paul and followed her to the US, where she organized the militant wing of the suffrage movement in fight for women’s right to vote. She co-founded the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) with Paul. They organized the famous 1913 parade, and she is noted to be the most imprisoned suffragist of the entire movement.
Anne Henrietta Martin: From Nevada, Martin was an academic and an athlete before discovering her own voice in the suffrage movement. She believed women should be allowed to participate in political venues and bid for the Senate seat in the early 1920′s. Although she was unsuccessful, she was the first woman to try — and in doing so, she opened the doors for other like-minded women
Esther Hobart McQuig Slack Morris: Known as the “Mother of Woman Suffrage,” she supported equal pay for teachers and laws that would give married women rights to property — at this time, everything they owned belonged to the men they depended on — whether it was their father, husband, uncle, cousin, or son. Because of her outspoken and courageous efforts, she was appointed as the first female Justice of the Peace in 1850, showing that women could successfully hold public office.
There are so many women to thank for the rights we have today — and more rights we need to fight for — and we need to thank them and remember them and recall them to our children so that they are not lost. They sacrificed for us so that we could have the right to vote and own property and be seen as equal members of society. These are only a few women — but our kids should know of them — and the rest of them — so please educate the new generations of girls so that they don’t think that empowerment and freedom means being pop-culture icons like Rihanna and Britney Spears. Endear these women in your memories. They spoke when they weren’t allowed to use their voices and they fought for their rights and the rights of all women when they had no power.