Michiana Chronicles: Remembering Voting

Apr 2, 2020

Joyous greetings! Seems like a strange sentiment in these troubled times, but it also seemed odd when expressed by women in France, Germany, England and yes, the United States as they wrote letters to one another in the mid-1800’s. They communicated and offered support as they labored, sometimes from prisons, for human rights for women, enfranchisement among their issues. So again, “joyous greetings,” because thanks to them, we have the vote.

One hundred years ago, in March, women in all of the states in the U.S. were granted the right to vote: this after some mighty struggles. Women already had that right to vote in some states, New Jersey being the first in 1776. However, that soon was revoked. Early on my home state, Kentucky, also granted then revoked that right for women.

In a more progressive mode though, by the time I came along, not only could women vote, but women and men in Kentucky could do so at 18. That age was not made legal throughout the U.S. for both genders until 1971.

When I cast my first vote, at 18, the polling place was in the living room of our next-door neighbor. It wasn’t a Presidential election year, but no matter; I was eager to begin offering my opinion by exercising my right. The living room was dimly lit. I don’t remember anything much about it except the thrill of approaching the behemoth voting machine, stepping close to it and pulling the big red lever. In a flash the curtains flew around me a’ la The Wizard of Oz and I made my selections. Ballot-marking and scantron-feeding doesn’t have nearly the drama of the curtain, but it’s not the process, it’s the action of casting a vote. And each time, I am thankful for those “Joyous greetings” women who went before me.

Remembering some of the best-known women who went before us and worked so long and tirelessly for the vote for women, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, is less joyous. In fact, it makes me weep. They labored on the suffrage-for-women issue from their meeting in 1851 until their deaths in the early 1900’s and yet never were allowed to vote legally.

One hundred years ago, when women first were allowed to vote, thanks to the better-late-than-never 19th Amendment to the Constitution, over 8 million of us went to the polls: about 8% of the total U.S. population. Not a huge start, but a goodly number when you consider that it had only been just a few months since the law was enacted, that many in the total population were underage and that a good bit of voter suppression probably remained in households. (Although there was a popular idea that allowing women to vote gave many husbands a second vote as they would “tell” their womenfolk for whom to vote. I hope that many of those women smiled, got in there and voted their own minds.)

Thinking about women voting their own minds brings up Jeannette Pickering Rankin. (On a personal voting note, it always has pleased me that the first woman elected to Congress also was named Jeannette.) She was sent as one of the two representatives from Montana in 1916. Following that two-year term, she was not re-elected until 1940. The timeline of her two terms gave her the opportunity to stand on principle—to vote her own mind-- and vote against the United States entering either World War I and World War II.

Jeannette Pickering Rankin

I read that some suffragists, when marching/demonstrating for Votes-for-Women, sometimes wore bright red lipstick as an in-your-face gesture of defiance. Isn’t that fun to consider?! Having lobbied so long and hard to get the vote, women were organized and ready to hit the ground running when finally successful. One of the outgrowths of the suffragist movement was the formation of the League of Women Voters with the first convention being held in Chicago. South Bend was an early chapter and remains active today, holding candidate forums in order to inform voters about the candidates and issues. So, paint your lips red and vote. Joyous Greetings indeed!

Music: "March of the Women" (Dame Ethel Smyth/Cicely Hamilton)