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100 years of women’s suffrage

Posted on August 18, 2020

Letters

Aug. 18 marked the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensuring American women the right to vote, a right known as women’s suffrage.

This was a hard-fought battle that formally began with the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. Historically, married women were not allowed to own property, had no legal claim to money they might earn or custody of their own children and had no right to vote, all privileges enjoyed by men.

The convention was attended by more than 300 people, mostly women and some men, notably Frederick Douglass. All agreed women are autonomous individuals who should be given opportunities and have the right to vote.

This conviction became the centerpiece of the women’s rights movement, and these activists, along with Susan B. Anthony and others, worked tirelessly to raise public awareness via speaking engagements and conferences throughout the country, parades, marches, and lobbying government officials, including picketing outside the White House. As a result of some protests, women were arrested, jailed and even force-fed when they refused to eat while detained.

The fight for voting rights was not without differences among the supporters themselves about how to achieve the goal and who should be included. Black women endured discrimination from the white suffragists who wanted to distance themselves from the issue of suffrage for women and race. This resulted in Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett forming the National Association of Colored Women Clubs in 1896. The various groups worked hard for the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, but it would be more than 40 years later, when impediments such as poll taxes and other local requirements were lifted, that Black women’s voting rights were fully realized.

The League of Women Voters U.S. was founded in 1920 to help newly enfranchised women responsibly exercise their rights as voters. It has never lost sight of that goal and is “proud to be nonpartisan, neither supporting nor opposing candidates or political parties at any level, but always working on vital issues of concern to members and the public.” Its mission is to empower voters and defend democracy.

Believing in that mission, about 30 women met on Aug. 12, 2012, to begin the formation of the League of Women Voters Twin Counties. We continue to work in our community and state to educate and advocate by registering voters, providing programs on local and state issues of concern and, most recently, providing scholarships for women at Nash and Edgecombe community colleges.

The right to vote is a cornerstone of democracy, and the ballot is an important expression of individual opinions and beliefs representing the will of the people. Carrie Chapman Catt, founder of the League of Women Voters, said “The vote is the emblem of your equality. That vote has been costly. Prize it. The vote is a power, a weapon of offense, defense, a prayer. Understand what it means and what it can do for your country. Use it intelligently, conscientiously, prayerfully.”

It couldn’t have been said better.

Patricia B. Adams

Rocky Mount

The writer is a member of the League of Women Voters Twin Counties and served as its founding president.

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