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Laura Freeman, 3-24-2019
Elaine Weiss Visits Hudson
Although more women than men vote in modern day elections, women had to wait until 1920 for the right to vote. And the battle was not easy.
To commemorate the centennial of women’s suffrage in Ohio, award-winning journalist Elaine Weiss on March 18 shared the political battle to pass the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote. She details this fight in her new book, “The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote.”
Weiss, who appeared courtesy of the Hudson Library and Historical Society, said she was inspired to write the book because she knew very little about how women won the vote.
“How did I get this vote?” Weiss asked. “We don’t know this important part of history. The 19th Amendment was the largest expansion of democracy. It gave the vote to half the citizens of the nation.”
Other women in the 150-person crowd at the library confessed they didn’t know the painful and slow slog of the suffrage story. Karen Dyser, of Twinsburg, said she now plans to visit The Upton House in Warren, the temporary center of the National Woman Suffrage Association in 1903.
“Weiss brought the story to life like she was there,” Dyser said. “I like how she drew parallels with what is going on today.” Weiss’ work has appeared in The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New York Times, and The Christian Science Monitor, as well as in reports and documentaries for National Public Radio and Voice of America. A MacDowell Colony Fellow and Pushcart Prize Editor’s Choice honoree, she is also the author of “Fruits of Victory: The Woman’s Land Army in the Great War.”
“’The Woman’s Hour’ shows how change is made in a democracy,” Weiss said. “It didn’t just give women full citizenship, the cultural change shifted the role of women in society.” Weiss drew parallels between the history of the movement and modern times. “Who has a voice and who gets to participate in a democracy?” Weiss asked. “We’re still asking that question now.” Weiss wrote the book before the 2016 election and could not anticipate what it would mean, as women took to the streets and demanded change, and citizens fought for rights they thought were secure, but are endangered once again.
“Men decided whether women could vote ... and in 1912, the answer was no,” Weiss said. “In 1914, the answer was no, in 1917 the answer was no, and in 1919 the answer was no.” It took three generations and seven decades to achieve, she said — a total of 72 years of fighting for the vote. “Men did not see the light and [then] decide that it was an idea whose time had come,” Weiss said. “That’s not how it worked.”
The battle began in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in July 1848 and included the right to vote with the urging of Frederick Douglas, a former slave. The right to vote movement would be tied to the abolition of slavery and the temperance movement.
Although black men were granted the right to vote with the 15th Amendment, women were not, and racism would prevent black men from exercising their right to vote until the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement adopted the methods of peaceful suffragists and more aggressive suffragettes movements, Weiss said.
“The nation couldn’t handle two big reforms at the same time,” Weiss said. “They were told it was not the ‘Woman’s Hour.’ It must wait.”
Women organized, traveling the country to change the hearts and minds of others, Weiss said. They conducted meetings and marches and wore white dresses and yellow sashes. Only recently, women in Congress wore white at the 2019 State of the Union Address to honor these suffragists.
Suffragists were ridiculed, attacked and propaganda campaigns were launched to stop them, Weiss said. “They were going to change relationships in and out of the home,” Weiss said. Opposition came from the Whiskey Ring, as many women supported prohibition. “The liquor lobby had a lot of dirty tricks,” Weiss said.
If women won the right to vote, 27 million more people could vote in the election. Besides the liquor business, the textile industry was afraid women would demand an end to child labor. Clergy also said that allowing women to vote was “against God’s plan of man’s dominance over women.” “The social and cultural conservatives were afraid it would change family life and bring about moral collapse,” Weiss said.
Weiss said it took a group of young members who were demanding and willing to break the law. Like all movements, the group became more militant, picketed the White House and protested on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. They were arrested and tortured, Weiss said, which ultimately gained them sympathy.
Becky Stine, of Cuyahoga Falls, said she had no idea women were tortured and imprisoned to gain the right to vote. “They were in the room with us, and I was getting chills when she was talking,” Stine said. “I’m going to make sure I get out and vote now.”
In 1920, when Republican Warren G. Harding promised a “return to normalcy,” the Women’s Rights Movement sensed the country was swinging toward a more conservative stance after World War I — and the 19th Amendment’s passage appeared tenuous, Weiss said.
The amendment needed 36 of 48 states to ratify it, and it had the support of 35 states. The amendment desperately needed Tennessee to ratify it. If Tennessee declined, the amendment could be delayed indefinitely. The Tennessee General Assembly voted to approve the 19th Amendment to the United State Constitution Aug. 18, 1920.
“Tennessee was a dangerous place for a battle,” Weiss said. “All other southern states had rejected [the amendment] on the rationale of states’ rights. They did not want black women to vote.”Weiss concluded by saying that social change is slow, and political change is complicated and messy. Protect the vote for all citizens, Weiss said — and use the vote to improve this democracy.
The paperback copy of “The Woman’s Hour” was delivered to every woman in U.S. Congress and will be made into a television series.
© 2019 League of Women Voters of Hudson Ohio