An exceptionally long ballot in Detroit is causing long lines (or as I like to think of it, reading time). It took 1.5 hours to vote at the Second Avenue Firehouse ... but voters' spirits were high. Lots of laughter, conversation, teasing among neighbors. This seems to be about par: John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press said on Twitter that it took two hours to vote at his eastside precinct. Poll workers served coffee to those waiting in line outside. (Here's a CJR piece I wrote on some of the proposals crowding up our ballot.)
And I love this. While the wait's a drag, it's inspiring seeing so many people care so much to vote, they'll sit tight -- even though they need to work, or their meter expired, or they have to bring their kids, or whatever. Now that I'm on the other side of the booth, I could look at gorgeous photos online of people voting all day. This is a rare and good thing: to live in a place where our vote matters, and in a time where the vote of most of us is counted. My appreciation for this deepened after spending some time in East Africa, where so many people are simply used to campaigns and elections being a front based on bribery and corruption. (Quite a lot of them are doing extraordinary work to change this.) I remember the sly smile of a Kampala woman named Prossy, who took a bus to Nairobi for our women-and-the-media conference. She was talking about journalism in Uganda, and made just a quiet laughing aside about Yoweri Mouseveni, who had, it seemed, won yet another term for president, extending his reign from 1986 for at least another five years. Who would've guessed! But it is her bemused look that stays with me.
These last few days, I've been thinking in particular about women who fought fiercely for the right to vote, convinced their ideas mattered when everyone told them otherwise. American women couldn't vote until 1920. Canada, 1917. White women in South Africa could vote by 1930, but women of any other color couldn't vote until 1994. It took France until 1944 (in the midst of World War II!) to grant suffrage. Italy, Mexico and Vietnam, 1946. Peru's women joined the civic world in 1955. Afghanistan, 1965. Switzerland held out until 1971, amazingly. Angola, 1975. Saudi Arabian women are promised that they will be able to vote in 2015.
New Zealand was first: 1893.
In the U.S., it happened piecemeal. Anti-suffragists won the 1915 New York State referendum by a landslide, arguing that women voters would close the saloons. But by the time the nineteenth amendment passed, Wyoming women had been voting for 50 years. In 1869, not long after African Americans were (nominally) granted the constitutional right to vote, Wyoming passed this resolution: "That every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote."
Women started sitting on juries and holding office a year later. Susan B. Anthony called for women to move en masse to Wyoming (a call that went unheeded, I presume; Wyoming ranks ninth in land area, but fiftieth in population). When Wyoming was up for statehood in 1890, despite threats from the federal government, it said it wouldn't become a state without bringing suffrage along with it. In 1924, Wyoming voters elected the first female governor in the nation.
Other Western states followed a similar path: Colorado (men) voted in 1893 to acknowledge women's right to vote. Idaho passed a constitutional suffrage amendment in 1896. But the path to enlightenment was hardly universal, or simple, or easy. It was brutal, in fact, as Jessica Bennett details.
It wasn’t until 1920 that women were granted suffrage, but it was 1917 when members of the National Women’s Party — Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others — picketed outside the White House, burning copies of Woodrow Wilson’s speeches and demanding the right to vote. What resulted — mass arrests (most for “obstructing traffic”), unlawful imprisonment and bloody beatings — became known as the Night of Terror, though it’s fair to say most among my generation don’t know it.
The Night of Terror took place on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Workhouse Prison, in Occoquan, Virginia, ordered his guards to teach the suffragists a lesson. For weeks, the women’s only water had come from an open pail. Their food had been infested with worms. But on this night, some 40 prison guards wielding clubs beat the women senseless — grabbing, dragging, choking, kicking and pinching them, according to affidavits recounting the attacks.
Let's turn to fragments from the newspaper archives to tell more of the story:
1860 New York Times: "First, they complained that the wife, as a wife, had no equality before the law as a husband. Even before the last Legislature was a petition for the rights of the wives of New-York. The wife might have assumed her position for the better or for the worse. In either case she lost her legal position; her right to dispose of her property, of her children, the right to sue or be sued. She was suspended. She had no legal existence."
1860 New York Times: "It was left to Mr. BEECHER to say whatever there is to be said in vindication of woman's right to vote... Manhood suffrage is established by law in this State, not because every man is believed to have a right to vote, but because every man's voting, or being allowed to vote, is considered the best means of securing tranquillity, order and good government. This is the only theory upon which the exclusion of negroes, resident aliens, and persons under twenty-one years of age, is for a moment justifiable. We deny them the suffrage, simply because we think, whether rightly or wrongly, that the rest of the community will be benefited by their privation.
... But we must remind (Mr. BEECHER) and all others who think with him, that most of the evils from which we now suffer are due not to the paucity-but to the multiplicity of our voters. If all the good, respectable, pure-mined, upright people, such as we are told female voters would invariably be, who now possess the franchise, made use of their privilege, all would go right. The trouble is that these people will not exercise it, except at rare intervals and under great excitement. The bad people, on the contrary, vote as often as they possibly can, and reap their reward.
1919 New York Times: "Today's victory for suffrage ends a fight that really dates from the American Revolution. Women voted under several of the Colonial Governments. During the Revolution women demanded to be included in the Government. Abigail Adams wrote her husband, John Adams, 'If women are not represented in this new republic there will be another revolution.'"
1920 New York Times: "It is almost cruel to recall the nineteenth century wit who offered to solve the suffrage question. It would suffice, he said, to permit all women to vote after thirty - the sly inference being that none would qualify. If the author of this merry jest is still alive, even he must find his taunt somewhat faded. Women in fighting for the vote have shown a passion of earnestness, a persistence, and above all a command of both tactics and strategy, which have amazed our master politicians. ... A world that has hitherto recognized only the power of feminine youth and beauty is on its knees - no less - before the woman of thirty. What is to be the upshot?
... Unlike suffrage, questions of human welfare can seldom be answered by a categorical yes or no. .... Women are beginning to have a sense of this, and they are developing a flexibility of mind and a capacity for compromise that make political discussion a thing very different from what it has been. ... Once more there is need of openness of mind and accurate foresight - the exercise of which is adding a new talent to the woman of thirty. ...
Truly, we live in a new day and are blessed with new manners. Time was when it seemed a baffling fact that the decade of the feminine struggle for freedom was the decade when hobbles became tightest and heels most toppling. Now we know: it was necessary to convince men that even in politics women can still be feminine. With victory assured, the woman of thirty is already dressing more sedately."
UPDATE: New York Magazine has a slideshow: "Ninety-Two Years of Women Voting." My favorites are numbers four (notice her middle finger), eight, twenty-one, and twenty-five.
About the Images:
Detroit Free Press photo of the polling station at a Woodbridge senior center in Detroit.
The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage was founded in 1911; the photo here is from about 1915. It catalyzed spin-off groups, like the Nebraska Men's Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage, that followed its advocacy model. According to NebraskaStudies.org, "Their association focused on two key major arguments — woman suffrage would force women to serve on juries, and granting women suffrage was merely 'the first step for women who demanded FREEDOM and POWER in their attempts to change HOME and MARRIAGE.' NAOWS disbanded after the nineteenth amendment passed, though its newsletter lasted longer, generally opposing feminist organizations.