Equal rights for women has arrived for the women of today, but yesterday’s women fought hard for those rights, the right to participate equally in choosing America’s leaders.
According to historical treatises, the women’s rights movements began in the 1830’s in earnest and culminated in the passage of the 19th amendment August 26, 1920. It was mixed together with the struggle to abolish slavery. It was in 1851 the abolitionist, Sojourner Truth, gave her famous speech, “Ain’t I a Woman” as she eloquently proclaimed, not just the rights of African Americans, but the rights and liberties of women as well.
The fire of the women’s rights movements continued to burn for years, bringing with it strong supporters whose names are etched with steely resolve into permanent historical monuments made from their sacrifices. The names include Reverend Antoinette Brown, Lucy Stone, Henry Blackwell, Frederick Douglas, Reverend Harry Ward Beecher, Lucretia Mott and Susan B. Anthony, among others.
The major impetus for women’s right to vote began in the 19th century, and resulted in an official introduction as an amendment by Congress in 1878. It remained controversial for 40 years until the 19th amendment was finally enacted, giving women the right to vote.
Those rights, hard fought, came early on in Oregon, one of the leaders in the women’s suffrage movement, adopting the women’s right to vote in 1912. The movement with its foundling days, moved to adulthood in the passage of the 19th amendment officially when it was ratified by the states in Congress.
Those early proponents of women’s suffrage in Oregon swept not just women into the movement but men as well. Advocates for women’s right to vote were strong in that land of the pioneers.
Later the suffragist movement was used as a stepping stone to expansion of rights for women in education and employment. It became intertwined again with the rights of African Americans in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that solidified and expanded women’s rights.
As a woman born and bred in Oregon of pioneering stock, I was taught early on the strength of women as they received their equal rights. My grandmother, a woman of the days before the right to vote, spoke to me, with the words of advice as well as admonition, “Do everything you can, my dear. This is the first time in the country’s history women have rights to learn.”
This was her encouragement for my college education, coming from a woman who had barely finished elementary school but who had watched the changes over the years. She stood as a shining citadel to me, a child of the 1940’s then, someone who hadn’t been able to vote as a very young woman but who treasured it when she secured it later.
Clara Diadema Matthews, my grandmother, took her voting rights seriously. She used to say, in her salt-and-peppery ‘play,’ “Look at your Grandpa there. He used to ask me how he should vote, and now I’m telling him. Why Franklin Roosevelt wouldn’t have been elected and got us out of trouble during the depression if it hadn’t been for me.”
This good humor view of the power of the women’s vote spoke to me dramatically those days of my girlhood in La Grande, Oregon. That view speaks to me now, as visions of that grandmother move across my memory slate today. It tells me again how important it is to have the right to vote.
It is that right that makes a difference today in election outcomes. As women look at the anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment, nothing is stronger in that anniversary than what empowerment it has given the rights of women today.
It is a right my grandmother held dear, that I hold dear today and the best way to memorialize its anniversary is to use it in November.
History of Women’s Suffrage
Civil Rights Act of 1964
A History of the American Suffragist Movement