RAISING THEIR VOICES: DAR honors women’s suffrage movement

Published 3:00 am Friday, September 13, 2019

Claire Murphy, Alabama Society Daughters of the American Revolution, was the program guest at the Wednesday meeting of the Oliver Wiley Chapter, DAR. In keeping with the upcoming Constitution Week,  the focus of the program was women and the events that led up to the ratification of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution that gave women the right to vote.

“Early grumblings were heard during colonial times as men were writing the Declaration of Independence,” Murphy said. “Abigail Adams implored her husband, John Adams, to remember the ladies and be more favorable to them when meeting with the Continental Congress in March 1776.”

Murphy said Adams encouraged her husband not to put such unlimited power in the hands of husbands, saying if particular care and attention were not paid to women, they were determined to form a rebellion. They would not hold themselves bound to obey any laws in which they had no voice or representation

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“John Adams did not take his wife’s word seriously,” Murphy said.

At that time, women were considered inferior to men. A woman had no legal right to challenge her husband or  the right to own land or sign legal documents. A woman could not keep her wages. Few jobs were available to her and with less pay. She could not have custody of her children if she divorced. She could be beaten by her husband or father if the whip was no thicker than a thumb.

A woman could not attend college, serve on a jury and must have an escort when she traveled. She must remain quiet in public and did not have the right to vote.

Murphy said women believed if they had the right to vote, they would have the power to change all the other laws that kept them unequal to men.

Two women Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who was married to Henry Stanton, an agent of the American Anti-Slavery Society, and Lucretia Motes, a female delegate to the World Anti-Slavery Convention in May 1840, were not allowed to participate in the meeting. The two women resolved to hold a convention  and form a society to advocate for the rights of women.

A Women’s Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York in July 1848.

Murphy said other conventions and meetings followed and many strong and dedicated women took up the cause, including Susan B. Anthony.

In 1878, a woman suffrage amendment, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was proposed in the U.S. Congress. In 1887, the first vote on woman suffrage was taken in the Senate and defeated.

Alice Paul, a young suffragist, then organized a parade along the same route as the inaugural parade for Woodrow Wilson the following  day. Between 5,000 and 8,000 women arrived to march with banners demanding “Votes for Women.”

In June 1916, Paul founded the National Women’s Party. One member, Inez Milholland Boisswain, collapsed during a speech on stage in Los Angeles. Her final words before she dropped were, “Mr. President, how long must women wait for liberty?”

World War I came. The National Women’s Party picketed but did not criticize the war but stated they would fight for the thing nearest to their hearts, “for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government.”

But it was the visit of a Russian envoy that helped give American women the right to vote. Russia had given women the right to vote in 1918.

Paul displayed a banner stating President Wilson was the chief opponent of the women’s suffrage movement.

Wilson pushed back. Paul was arrest for obstructing traffic and causing a crowd to gather. She was sentenced to seven months and was sent to the Occoquan Workhouse where conditions were horrific, Murphy said. “The prisoners, many of them sick, drank from the same cup; toilet was open and visible to male guards and prisoners were denied access to a toothbrush, comb and toilet paper. The food had flies and worms.” 

Paul and 30 other suffragists went on a hunger strike and were subjected to force feeding with a hard feeding tube shoved down their throats or through their noses.

In November 1917, the Wilson Administration changed its approach. The suffragists were let out of jail.

On January 9, 1918, the president offered his support for woman’s suffrage.” In January 1918, the House of Representatives passed the Amendment but the Senate defeated the Amendment by two votes.

“Watchfires for Freedom” protests were held at the White House

Wilson wanted the amendment passed. On May 19, 1919, the 66th Congress was called into session. On May 21, 1919,  the House passed the Susan B. Anthony Amendment. On June 4, 1919 the Senate passed the Amendment.

Thirty-six states were needed to ratify the amendment. Tennessee had the honor of being the 36th state to ratify but the House  voted ended in a tie. A second round of voting took place. Henry Burns, the youngest member, had inside his pocket an envelope with a white rose from his mother, a suffragist. He cast the last vote. “Aye.” The 19th Amendment was ratified.

A Republican from the mountains of East Tennessee made national woman suffrage possible.

On August 26, 1920, the 10th Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution.

Women in all states voted on Election Day, November 2, 1920.