A Passion for Women’s Rights
August 2020 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Photography by Cassidy Dunn
Through the lens of history, we look forward.
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. The passage marked the largest expansion of democracy in the history of our country. On August 18, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified. On November 2 of that year, more than 8 million women across the United States voted in elections for the first time.
Jeanne Elmore of Beaufort is a member of both the American Association of University Women and the League of Women Voters. She is passionate about women’s rights, and her message to all women is: “Women didn’t get the right to vote, women had to fight for it.”
The history of the suffrage movement goes all the way back to the Civil War era. In 1848 the first women’s rights convention took place in Seneca Falls, NY, and was a forum to promote the idea that all people should have equal rights. The abolishment of slavery and rights for women became intertwined. Elmore explained most suffragists were also abolitionists, and after this conference, the suffragists began their organized fight for women’s equality. For the next 72 years, women leaders lobbied, marched, picketed and protested for the right to vote. National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, was a moderate organization, and the National Woman’s Party (NWP) under the leadership of Alice Paul, was more aggressive and used actions of civil disobedience, including picketing the White House.
Jeanne said that women at that time could not own property, they had no right to keep the money they earned, and no legal right for custody of their own children. Women pushed for reform legislation, but politicians were unwilling to listen to a disenfranchised group. Women began to realize that in order to achieve reform, they needed to win the right to vote, and the woman suffrage movement became a mass movement.
Under the leadership of Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul and other women’s rights pioneers, suffragists circulated petitions and lobbied Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women. “I don’t think women today realize that during World War I women performed men’s jobs in support of the war effort, but they didn’t have the right to vote and their earnings were not their own. They fought for our rights, and many suffered physical violence and imprisonment.”
In 1917 the National Woman’s Party organized protests outside the White House to pressure President Woodrow Wilson to support women’s suffrage.
Elmore described the Night of Terror that took place on November 10, 1917. Suffragists picketing outside the White House were arrested and jailed in the Occoquan Workhouse. They were brutally beaten, fed maggot-infested food, tortured, given filthy uniforms and beds infested with bed bugs. They protested with a hunger strike and were brutally force-fed with tubes pushed down their throats. “These were upper and middle class women, and when the newspapers got wind of this, they were eventually released,” Elmore said. The Washington, DC, Court of Appeals declared their arrests unconstitutional. Alice Paul had previously been arrested and was sentenced to seven months in jail, and, she was put in solitary confinement and force-fed for three weeks.
This month the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial will open to commemorate the millions of women from every state, race and ethnicity who fought for 72 years to win the constitutional right to vote. Located in Occoquan, Virginia, where many suffragists were jailed and force-fed, it will memorialize the fight for women’s suffrage.
Locally, Jeanne works to register voters through the League of Women Voters and said, “I have young women today who say they aren’t interested in registering. It’s hard to hear a woman say she doesn’t want to vote because things can head backwards. And, we are not there yet. Voter suppression hurts both women and men. We are all in this together. What helps women also helps men and families—family leave, equal pay, an end to harassment…the work is not done. It’s time to pass the baton to younger women and hope they stay involved and don’t take things for granted.”
The recent resurgence of women’s activism has refocused attention on gender equality issues, including the ERA, which supporters argue is needed to protect women’s rights. Elmore said, “Alice Paul proposed the ERA in 1923, and it still hasn’t passed. Think about that. We still aren’t equal. I’m hoping that as more women are elected things will improve in giving all women an equal voice.”
Must Watch: Jeanne highly recommends a powerful movie called “Iron Jawed Angels” that tells the story of the Suffragist Movement, what the suffragists went through, the picketing and the Night of Terror.
AAUW Mission: The mission of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) is to advocate for gender equity and economic security for all women.
League of Women Voters
Mission: The mission of the League of Women Voters is “Empowering voters. Defending democracy.”
Vision: “We envision a democracy where every person has the desire, the right, the knowledge and the confidence to participate.”
Value: “We believe in the power of women to create a more perfect democracy.”