Tag Archives: suffrage

Celebrating the 19th Amendment: August 26, 2013

26 Aug

SufferageToday marks the 93rd Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution.  After a very long and hard struggle for women to get the right to vote — fought by such heroes as Alice Paul and many  others — women were finally granted the right to vote.  Finally, in 1920 all women were being treated as full equals.

Oh but wait.  Sadly, this is far from true. While I am exceedingly grateful for the passing of the 19th Amendment, we still have a long way to go towards treating all women equitably.  Even more sad is that the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the Voting Rights Act.  With this ruling, we now witness the very intentional disenfranchisement of targeted voters: poor women, women of color, and a large percentage of people of color.

Today is a great day for action.  Today we should be standing in solidarity with all women to celebrate the 19th Amendment but to also initiate respectful conversations around what populations are being kept from the polls and how we shore up the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. While five members of the Supreme Court may not remember history, there are many of us that do and are more than happy to offer a history lesson to prevent us from repeating our mistakes.

I would also like to celebrate the National Women’s History Project today, co-founded by Molly Murphy MacGregor. Today is Women’s Equality Day as proclaimed by the President of the United States.   Click here to find out more about the National Women’s History Project.

Happy Birthday, M. Carey Thomas

2 Jan

M_Carey_ThomasOn this date in 1858 a pioneer in education and women’s rights was born. Martha Carey Thomas — known as Minnie to her family but simply as Carey by her own preference — was born into a Quaker family in Baltimore. She was badly burned at the age of seven and became an avid reader during her convalescence. She had a strong independent spirit, influenced by her mother and aunt, both early proto-feminists. She graduated from Cornell’s Sage college and was offered a position as dean but opted to expand her horizons first.

Coming from great privilege, she toured Europe where she developed a love of music and theatre. This put her at odds with her Quaker upbringing, leaving her largely without religion for the rest of her life. She attended a number of universities in Europe to demonstrate the academic prowess of women and received a PhD in linguistics from the University of Zurich. (Her dissertation was on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, one of my favorite works of literature.)

When Thomas returned from Europe, her father had just been made a trustee of the new Byrn Mawr college. Drawing on her academic strength, she petitioned to be made president of the university. Citing her age — she was 25 — the board rejected her offer but made her a professor of English and a dean. Recognizing her talents, President John Rhoads had her tour other women’s colleges to get ideas for the new school. She visited Vassar, Smith College, Wellesley, Cambridge in Boston, and Radcliffe, returning with a stronger sense of feminism and a strong desire to improve education for women.

After Rhoads’ death in 1894, Thomas was made President. She stopped teaching, but continued as Dean until 1908. She maintained strict academic standards and designed a system of tracked academic courses modelled on Johns Hopkins. (She herself had attended that school but left because she could not officially gain credits as a woman.) She frequently lectured on women’s intellectual equality with men.

One man’s mind differs from another man’s mind far more widely than all women’s minds differ from all men’s.

She was a staunch suffragist and the first president of the National College Women’s Equal Suffrage League. She was also a peace activist and a supporter of the Progressive party. Sadly, she did not always use her privilege for good. Despite being part of a marginalized population and an activist for equality for women, she was also a eugenicist and an opponent of non-European immigration, thus showing her complexity as a flawed human being.

Thomas was romantically involved with Mamie Gwinn, whom she had met while studying in Leipzig. They were together for many years until Gwinn left her to marry a man. That triangle was immortalized by Gertrude Stein in Fernhurst. She later became involved with Mary Garrett, with whom she lived in the campus president’s home until Garrett’s death.

Carey Thomas retired from Bryn Mawr in 1922. Mary Garrett had left her the astounding sum of $1.5 million; she dedicated some to the school and used to the rest to retire in luxury, engaging in world travel and her love of music and theatre. She died in December 1935 at the age of 78, leaving behind a complicated legacy.  While I do celebrate Thomas’ voice for the Suffragist Movement, her peace activism, and her stand for equality for women, it is a great disappointment to see that she was not able to look at the intersections of oppression, or realize how her eugenicist beliefs marginalized people, as she was marginalized.

Happy Birthday, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker

26 Nov

On this date in 1832 a true American hero and pioneer was born. Mary Edwards Walker was born in the town of Oswego, NY, the youngest of five daughters in a farming family. While working on the farm, she refused to wear women’s clothes, finding them too cumbersome and restrictive, beginning a lifelong spirit of dress reform. She attended a local school then became a teacher until she had earned enough money to go to medical school. The only woman in her class, she graduated as a medical doctor in 1855–TSM readers might remember me celebrating Elizabeth Blackwell, the very first female doctor.

Her initial medical practice was not successful, as women doctors were looked upon with suspicion and distrust–a consequence of confronting a dominant discourse. She left upstate New York for Iowa in 1860 and briefly returned to school; this ended abruptly when the college suspended her for refusing to quit the debate team, which was historically all male–I guess only men know how to debate (?)

Soon after this the U.S. Civil War began and Walker volunteered for the medical corps. She was only offered employment as a nurse but often worked unpaid as a field surgeon at the front lines. Finally, in 1863, she became the first woman employed by the U.S. Army as a surgeon. In April 1864 she stayed behind after a battle to help a Confederate doctor perform an amputation; captured by the Confederate army (how’s that for gratitude?), she was held as a prisoner of war for four months, after which she returned to her duties.

When the war was over, Walker was recommended for the Medal of Honor by General William Tecumseh Sherman. President Johnson signed the bill approving the award. Walker is one of only eight civilians and the only woman ever to receive this honor.

Building on this accolade — and sadly acknowledging that outside of the battlefield she was unlikely to succeed in medical practice — she became renowned as a lecturer. She spoke and wrote frequently on health care. A staunch abolitionist before the war, she also spoke on civil rights, expanding into suffrage and other early feminist issues. She was also a dress reform pioneer, finding men’s clothing more comfortable and convenient. She was arrested a number of times for “impersonating a man” solely because of her attire.

Sadly, as with many of her peers, she died before suffrage passed in the U.S., on February 21, 1919. She had a simple funeral but was honored with the military tradition of a flag-draped casket. She was also buried in her favorite man’s dress suit. Dr. Walker has been honored with many posthumous accolades, including the use of her name for medical facilities. The Whitman-Walker clinic in Washington, DC is named for her and for fellow civil war medic,  and one of my personal heroes, Walt Whitman, who served as a nurse.

Happy Birthday, Elizabeth Cady Stanton

12 Nov

On this date in 1815, one of the most important figures in early women’s rights was born. Elizabeth Cady was born in Johnstown, NY. Her father, Daniel, was a prominent attorney who served one term in Congress and was a circuit court judge and New York Supreme Court Justice. Her mother, Margaret, was a tall, powerful woman who was energetic in her youth, but lost many children (six of her eleven); Elizabeth mainly remembered her as a sad, distant woman.

A youth spent browsing her father’s home law library fascinated Elizabeth. She also developed a realization of just how dramatically the law favored men over women in every particular. Although her family owned at least one slave — slavery was not abolished in New York until 1827 — early exposure to her abolitionist cousin Gerritt Smith helped form strong sentiments in Elizabeth. Elizabeth becomes an exceedingly strong voice in the abolitionist movement.

Unlike many women of her era, she was formally educated. She attended Johnstown Academy, where she studied until the age of 16. She enjoyed being in co-educational classes where she could compete intellectually and academically with boys her age and older. Since local Union College accepted only men, Stanton enrolled in the Troy Female Seminary, which was founded and run by Emma Willard. During her education she had unpleasant dealings with a local Calvinist preacher(imagine that, a male preacher mistreating a woman); as a result she rejected organized Christianity maintaining that logic and a humane sense of ethics were the best guides to both thought and behavior.

Elizabeth met Henry Brewster Stanton through her involvement in abolitionism. He was a journalist and anti-slavery orator who later became an attorney. They were married in 1840; Elizabeth instructed the minister to eliminate the promise to obey from the wedding vows, later observing, “I obstinately refused to obey one with whom I supposed I was entering into an equal relation.” She also assumed the name Elizabeth Cady Stanton, refusing to be subsumed as Mrs. Henry B. Stanton. She asserted that “[t]he custom of calling women Mrs. John This and Mrs. Tom That and colored men Sambo and Zip Coon, is founded on the principle that white men are lords of all.” Is it any wonder that I love our Elizabeth Cady Stanton?

She was an ardent suffragist as well as an abolitionist. Despite her large family (seven children), she maintained that she planned the birth of each child through “voluntary motherhood” and was a strong proponent of women’s reproductive and sexual rights. She and her husband shared many views but had lively discussions in which they often disagreed. They moved to Seneca Falls, NY for her husband’s health. It was there that her most famous work began.

In 1848, she and Lucretia Mott organized the first women’s rights convention, (The Seneca Falls Convention) attended by over 300 people. She delivered her Declaration of Sentiments at this conference, one of the most important early treatises on women’s rights. She went on to work with other reformers like Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. She remained a powerful, often controversial figure throughout her life. Despite her work as an abolitionist, she initially opposed the fourteenth and fifteenth amendments, concerned that explicitly giving African American men the right to vote created a larger bloc that could oppose women’s suffrage. She later used the vague wording of the amendments to maintain that they had, in fact, created a right for women to vote, although that position never had legal support.

She wrote, published and spoke about women’s rights throughout her life. She died in 1902 at the age of 86. Sadly, she never did get to see the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

Bigot of the Week Award: September 14: Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson

14 Sep

Bigot of the Week

This week provided an embarrassment of riches on the Bigot front. It was tempting to honor Mitt Romney for his spectacular bile-infused smirkfest regarding the deaths in Libya, but given the damage he’s done to his campaign, we’ll let that rest. This week’s champ is Alabama minister and frequent Fox (Faux) News guest Jesse Lee Peterson.

Unchristian Rev. Peterson got some unwanted press this week for a sermon he delivered earlier this year. It was leaked to RawStory last Tuesday and it is impressive in its misogyny. The not-so-good Reverend makes the assertion that extending voting rights to women was “one of the greatest mistakes America made.” REALLY? Was this man hatched? Does he not have a mother? My, how deep his hatred of women runs. How is equality EVER a great mistake? Why don’t we let him explain for us.

These women are voting for the wrong people. They’re voting for people who are evil, who agree with them, who are gonna take us down the pathway of destruction […] They can’t handle stress. They can’t handle anything. You walk up to them with an issue, they freak out right away. Especially if they can’t get the problem resolved right away … they go nuts. They get mad. They get upset. Because it’s not in their nature. They don’t have patience. They don’t have love.

Seems like he’s an expert on going nuts and lacking love (In my best Doralee voice from 9 to 5 “Oh honey, this [man] has flipped out.”

Dishonorable mention goes to two people previously recognized on TSM for their lack of charm. Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall turned his attention from gay sex to abortion. He held a press conference to discuss defunding Planned Parenthood. Going the full Akin, he avoided science and decency by claiming that children with disabilities are God’s punishment on mothers who had abortions.  Is it me, or is this man criminally insane?

Meanwhile, serial lunatic Linda Harvey of Mission America found a special way to celebrate back-to-school time. Her organization is flogging a flyer for grade school and middle school kids that tells them how much God hates homosexuality. It’s a particularly nasty bit of homophobia disguised as education and religion which you can read here if you’ve got the stomach for it.  Yeah, Linda. That’s it–I caught being gay at school.  Honey, you need to load up on some Haldol along with your brothers Marshall and Akin.

Women’s History Month 2012: Edwina Dumm

13 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate the first full-time female editorial cartoonist, Edwina Dumm. Born in Ohio in 1893, Frances Edwina Dumm’s father was an actor turned newspaperman, inspiring her interest in publishing. After completing high school in 1911, she pursued a correspondence course from the Landon School of Illustration and Cartooning. Her skill and fame became such that the school featured her in its later advertisements.

She drew editorial cartoons for the Columbus Daily Monitor from its first edition (August 7, 1915) until the paper folded (July 1917). Her Spot-Light Sketches was a full-page feature of editorial cartoons, and some of these promoted women’s issue and was influential in the suffrage movement. Dumm also drew The Meanderings of Minnie, a semi-autobiographical strip about a tomboy and her dog. Moving to New York City, she continued her art studies at the Art Students League and created Cap Stubbs and Tippie, syndicated by the George Matthew Adams Service. When the George Matthew Adams Service went out of business in the 1940s, Dumm’s strip was picked up by King Features Syndicate. Dumm continued to write and draw Tippie until her 1966 retirement (which brought the strip to an end).

Dumm worked very fast, reputedly penciling a daily strip in an hour. In the late 1940s, she drew the covers for sheet music by her roommate, Helen Slater, who did both music and lyrics. During the 1940s, she also contributed features to the Wonder Woman comic book. She was a recipient of the National Cartoonists Society Gold Key Award in 1978. After she retired from her comic strip, she remained active with watercolor paintings, photography and helping the elderly at her New York City apartment building when she was well into her eighties. She died in Manhattan in 1990.

Women’s History Month: 2012

1 Mar

Celebrating Women's History Month

Like Black History Month, I wish we did not have to celebrate a specific month for Women’s History.  However, the truth of the matter is that we desperately need Women’s History Month, just as we continue to need to celebrate Black History Month.

The past three years in particular we have witnessed myriad vicious attacks on women and their bodies.  John Boehner and his ilk seem to want property rights to every vagina in America.  I’m very glad, as all of America should be, that my dear friend Molly Murphy MacGregor helped start Women’s History Month.

Over the course of the month we will look at women pioneers and women who fought for civil rights, while we also examine the continued hypocrisy and double standards that exist, as we witness right wing extremist policing women’s eggs.  Reproductive health is debated by men (Catholic Bishops? Darrel Issa‘s all-male birth control panel?) with paternalistic moralizing and no reference to women at all. Sadly, it is not just men that are trying to control women’s bodies, but a faction of self-loathing women, who have internalized male oppression are also hurting women: are you listening Susan G. Komen Foundation? Helping everyone learn Women’s History is the best preventative for creating any new Phyllis Schlaflys or Karen Handels.

I leave you with one of my favorite School House Rock videos!

Today in Women’s History: Hattie Caraway

12 Jan

Official Portrait of a Pioneer

Eighty years ago today a largely forgotten pioneer became the first woman elected to serve in the United States Senate. When her husband, Senator Thaddeus Caraway (D – AR) died in office, Caraway was appointed by the Governor to fill in until a special election could be called. She ran in the special election and won the seat handily. In May 1932, when Vice President Charles Curtis invited her to preside over the Senate, she not only became the first woman ever to do so, but she also shocked her colleagues by announcing her intention to run for a full term. Successful in her bid, she went on to win again in 1938 after a tough primary challenge. She was defeated for re-election in 1944.

Known as a quiet Senator, she was nevertheless a strong advocate for the poor, workers, and women. She was the first woman to chair a Senate Committee (Enrolled Bills and Library) and in 1943 became the first female legislator to support the Equal Rights Amendment. Early in her career, she commented matter-of-factly about how basic equal rights should be:

after equal suffrage I just added voting to cooking and sewing and other household duties.

After losing her Senate seat, she was appointed by President Roosevelt to the Employees’ Compensation Commission, and in 1946 President Harry Truman gave her a post on the Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board, where she served until suffering a stroke in January 1950.

Moment in Women’s History: Joan Baez

9 Jan

Today is folk music and social justice pioneer Joan Baez’ 71st birthday. Born on Staten Island to a Mexican Catholic and a Scots Anglican, Baez was heavily influenced by the pacifist messages delivered when the family converted to Quakerism. She demonstrated her musical talent early on, and began performing in the late 50s. Fluent in English and Spanish, she has recorded in both (as well as six other languages).

After moving to New York City in 1960, she began performing more protest-based music along with her other folk repertoire. She soon met a young Bob Dylan and recorded a number of his songs. The two regularly performed together and developed a strong shared commitment to social justice. They both performed at the 1963 March on Washington. Baez also performed at Woodstock, viewing the festival as a statement against government oppression.

Throughout her career, Baez has been an outspoken proponent of social justice. A strong feminist, she is also a staunch defender of LGBT rights. She regularly performs benefits to relieve poverty and homelessness. Happy birthday to a real champion of human rights!

Today is also the date that Carrie Chapman Catt was born in 1859. Happy birthday to this suffragist pioneer.

Celebrating Jane Addams

6 Sep

Happy Birthday, Jane Addams

Happy Birthday, Jane Addams.  Addams was recognized around the world as a person who dedicated her life to social justice.  In 1931, Addams was the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Addams may well be best known for starting Hull House in Chicago.  Here is the current mission statement of Hull House:

Jane Addams Hull House Association improves social conditions for underserved people and communities by providing creative, innovative programs and advocating for related public policy reforms.

Jane Addams Hull House Association provides child care, domestic violence counseling and prevention, economic development, family services, job training, literacy training, senior services, foster care, independent living, and housing assistance for 60,000 children, families and community members each year in communities in and around Chicago.

Hull House also advocates for social and public policy reforms and initiatives that impact the lives of the men, women, and children in the communities we serve.

Yes, Addams would be much despised by many of today’s Republicans.  All of that social work nonsense, helping the poor and marginalized.  One can actually visualize Eric Cantor and John Boehner spitting at our Jane.  Empathy and caring for our communities seems to have gone out of vogue–the legacy of Ronald Reagan made viciously cruel and real by the Teahaddists.  The fact that Hull House has a Center for Civil Society would seem to run contrary to the philosophy of this current crop of Republican Presidential candidates who deride the poor and sign pledges to discriminate against and scapegoat those in the LGBT community.

As the reputation of Addams and Hull House became well renowned across the country, Addams was recruited to Chicago’s Board of Education in 1905.  In 1909, Addams became the President of National Conference of Charities and Corrections.  Unfortunately, the National Conference of Charities and Corrections no longer exists; it died in 1917 with the Great War.  In 1917, the National Conference on Social Welfare was formed and would later become National Association of Social Workers in 1985.

Although the word feminist did not exist at the turn of the 20th Century, our Addams certainly embodied the principles of a modern feminist.  Addams was a suffragist and believed that women should control their own destinies–my what a novel idea!  She was also a well known pacifist and served as the President of the International League for Peace and Freedom until 1929. I can’t even imagine any of our current political leaders being a part of the International League for Peace and Freedom without being called “unpatriotic”–how sad.  Big shock that Addams was expelled from the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) for her pacifist ideals and her very vocal and public opposition to the war.  I am grateful for the work accomplished by Addams and hope that I and many others will take inspiration to make the world a better place for ALL!

The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life–Jane Addams

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