Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Sisters: The Lives of America's Suffragists

A few months ago I recommended the film "Iron Jawed Angels" about the group of suffragists who were still fighting for the vote in 1920 when the 19th Amendment finally passed.  Inspired by that film, and by how little I remembered about the suffrage movement, I borrowed this book from the library.  It has taken me a little while to get to it, but now that I've read it, I really learned so much. 

Sisters not only lists the historical facts surrounding several important suffragists, but it also explores their personal lives and the influence that had on their work.  The most interesting section for me was the chapter about Alice Paul, likely due to "Iron Jawed Angels."  I was flabbergasted by the descriptions of the treatment Paul and her compatriots endured.  The suffragists were frequently arrested for their protests and denied legal counsel. 

November 17th, 1917, was dubbed "The Night of Terror" when a large group of women were arrested and taken to a workhouse in Virginia.  The superintendent threatened his prisoners with his walking stick, threw them down stairs, dragged them by their hair, and threatened sexual assault and straitjackets.  One woman vomited all night from a concussion.  In protest, the women began a hunger strike and were force fed via tubes shoved up their noses and down their throats.  All this was less than 100 years ago here in our own country.  Can you believe such a thing?  And were these terrorists threatening to murder thousands of innocent people?  No, they were women who peacefully protested not being allowed a voice in their own government.  Scary, isn't it? 

In 1920, women were finally granted the right to vote.  And what difference did this new constituency make in the history of our country?  Suddenly the concerns of women gained a higher priority.  In 1921, an act was established providing federal funding for doctors and public health nurses offering preventive health care to pregnant women and new mothers.  In 1922, women were granted equal citizenship with men until which a woman marrying a foreign national lost her American citizenship while the same was not true for men marrying non-citizens.  And in 1924, a child-labor law was sent for ratification. 

When women are given power, political or otherwise, they help themselves, each other and their children.  Women can be very powerful, we just have to stand up and speak out.  Women have had the right to vote in this country for less than a century and our rights can be taken away if we don't make good use of them.  Are you registered to vote?  Are your sisters?  Mothers?  Daughters?  Friends?  Register to vote today and utilize the right for which so many women have fought.  We can make a difference in this world. 

No comments: