Sunday, March 8, 2009

U.S Women Win the Right to Vote

On August 26, 1920, America’s suffragettes were finally able to end their more than fifty year battle for the right to vote with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. As momentous of a victory as it was, it was one that came only after more than seventy years of struggle by America’s women. I believe that it is both the determination of those who fought for it for so long, as well as the enormity of their victory, that deservedly earns the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment a ranking of #7 and #5 by the public and journalists respectively on the list of the 100 top news stories of the century.

Many of the events on the list of top news stories are events that took place and changed the course of history in a single day, or even a few hours- the JFK assassination, U.S stock market crash, the bombing of Pearl Harbor. But women winning the right to vote in this country is something that happened over the course of generations, and because of this I chose to look at several articles covering the suffrage movement at different points in history.

Women’s fight for suffrage began long before many of the women who first voted in the 1920 elections were even born. In July of 1848, women’s suffrage was first seriously presented as an issue at the Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention which was organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott.

What struck me most about the way the convention was how much it varied. The headlines are not large and read simply “Woman’s Rights”[1] or “Woman’s Rights Convention”[2]. And the articles range from supportive: “It has long been our opinion that women are better than men…wherever- with perhaps a few exceptions- wherever their influence has been exerted, it has been for good,”[3] to downright mocking, as in The Liberator magazine. The article appears simply under the title “Woman’s Rights Meeting” (there is no byline) and goes on to describe the seemingly ludicrousness of the idea of women’s rights:

“A Convention was recently held at Seneca Falls, N.Y., gotten up by a few erratic, addle-pated come-others of the female sex, headed by the famous Lucretia Mott, for the purpose of discussing their rights, social, political and religious. The preliminary movement in the meeting was the reading of a parody of the Declaration of Independence, showing forth their rights and grievances… We have not met with any detailed official account of the proceedings nor of the speeches, but we think we can form some idea of the affair…We view it as a most insane and ludicrous farce, for women in the nineteenth century to get up in a public and promiscuous assemblage and declare themselves ‘oppressed and fraudulently deprived of their most sacred rights’, when, if they really knew what belonged to their true position, instead of stirring up discontent and enacting such foolery, they would be about the sober duties and responsibilities which devolve upon them as rational beings, and as ‘helpmeets’ of the other sex.”[4]

I know the excerpt is a bit long, but I was blown away by not only how critical the article is, but how the writer points out that he (I can only assume it was written by a man) really has no idea what actually went on at the meeting but how ridiculous it is nonetheless. The only source cited in the course of the article was the “parody” of the Declaration of Independence that the attendees of the meeting created.

[1] OCW Liberator 9/22/1848, Proquest Historical Newspapers

[2]National Era 8/31/1848, Proquest Historical Newspapers

[3]Littell's Living Age 08/26/1848, Proquest Historical Newspapers

[4] The Liberator 9/15/1848, Proquest Historical Newspapers

1 comment:

  1. It is clear how much and where the bias is in these articles and the topics included. It also shows that there is demand for multiple sources to give the reader more information. But then again you are looking at the mid-eighteen hundreds where people were looking for that support of their social and religious beliefs.

    One part that I also find interesting is how the article proclaims that while they have no details of the speeches or discussions occurring in the women right's discussions that they say straight away that they will infer what it is all about.

    This was clearly a warning to husbands that groups out their are filling their women with crazy ideas about equality and fulfillment. There was no attempt to even talk to one person who attended and whether they thought it was positive or negative.

    I am glad you were able to find 4 sources about the same topic/the same year.