I received an email today from a friend, encouraging me to vote. At first, I thought it was one of those “rah-rah” type emails that would say “Vote for So-and-so. He’s your man” or “A vote for So-and-so is a vote against Thus-and-so.” However, it was not one of those.
Instead, it opened my eyes to a period of American history that I know very little specific information about. It was set in the mid-19-teens and concluded in 1920, 88 years ago. Interestingly enough, 1920 was the year that my mother was born on Christmas Eve. I don’t know that my mother ever gave this any thought herself, since it happened before she had any memory of it, but this was a time that women didn’t automatically have the right and privilege of voting that we American women enjoy so nonchalantly today.
As a child, my father always admonished each of his four children to “always vote. Never give up your right to vote. It’s too precious to throw away or waste by not voting.” I don’t remember there ever actually being a time that I didn’t think of voting as a given for me. I just thought of it as something all Americans did. Tonight, however, as I began researching this information, I learned things I’ve never heard before about the generations of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers.
Did you know:
that on November 15, 1917, known as the “Night of Terror”, women arrested for “obstructing sidewalk traffic” in front of the White House (actually picketing with signs and protesting Woodrow Wilson’s lack of concern for women’s right to vote) were beaten and abused by forty prison guards of the Occuquan Workhouse in Virginia, who, with their warden’s full approval and blessing, went on a rampage with their clubs to “teach these women a lesson”?
that suffragette, Dora Lewis, was hurled into a dark cell, smashing her head into a stone wall, knocking her out cold, which resulted in her cellmate, Alice Cosu, having a heart attack, believing that Dora was dead?
that one of the suffrage movement leaders, Lucy Burns, was chained to the cell bars above her head, hanging all night, leaving her bleeding and gasping for air, fighting asphyxiation?
For weeks, their only water was in an open pail. Their food – a colorless slop infested with worms.
When another leader, Alice Paul, went on a hunger-strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat, and poured liquid into her until she vomited. This went on weeks, and it didn’t end until word was smuggled out of the Workhouse to the public. This abuse didn’t happen overseas in some third world country – it happened here, in the United States of America, and it was only 91 years ago.
In the process of chasing information via cyberlinks, I also learned about an HBO made-for-tv movie, entitled “Iron Jawed Angels“, which documented the battle these women fought so that all American women of all ages could have the freedom to express their choice and their decision in the voting booth.
I don’t honestly know if I could sit through this movie, knowing what I now know these women endured. After reading about the different women dramatized in this movie and their experiences, I am awed by their courage, their tenacity, and their willingness to fight for what they believed in – a woman’s right to vote.
But the question remains – will American women vote this year? Or will they use the excuse of the getting the kids to school, not being late for work, or the doctor appointments, or the weather – on and on and on?
Before you decide if you’re going to make the effort to vote, take a moment and remember what women like Paul, Burns, and Lewis went through to give us the right 88 years later to go inside that voting booth and cast that ballot. I know that I will never take the right to vote for granted again.
Whether or not you vote Democrat, Republican, or Independent, just vote – because history is being made as you enter that polling place.
For additional information, please visit:
Iron Jawed Angels – an HBO movie
Why Women Vote – by Connie Schultz, The Plain Dealer, August 2004
Citigal Movement – “There will never be a new world order until women are a part of it.” – Alice Paul
Women’s Suffrage – wikipedia
Women’s Suffrage – Brutal Treatments – About.com
Jailed for Freedom – a first-person account by Doris Stevens of the Suffragist Movement in the early 20th century