15 April 2008

Social Movements: Fight for your right to vote

By Delia DeLeest

On January 5, 1925, Nellie Taloe Ross became the first woman governor in the history of the United States. The Democratic party of Wyoming nominated her during a special election after the death of her husband, William Ross, who had been the previous governor. Despite the fact that she refused to actively campaign for election, she easily beat her Republican opposition.

What makes Mrs. Ross' ascension to the governorship so exciting was that, up until less than five years earlier, women hadn't even been allowed to vote.
Women's right to vote was first seriously brought up in July, 1848 at the Seneca Falls Women's Rights Convention. Both Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were both in attendance, along with a young woman named Charlotte Woodward. In 1920, when women's right to vote was a national fact, Ms. Woodward, the eighty one year old sole surviving attendant of that convention, proudly cast her vote for president.

The race riots of the 1960's were not something new. Women of the early twentieth century experienced much the same in their fight to win equal rights. In 1913, Woodward Wilson's inauguration day, eight thousand suffragettes marched in protest, it was watched by half a million observers and two hundred people were injured in the violence that broke out. A second protest during Wilson's second inauguration was less violent.

After World War I, many more women became active in the suffrage movement. While the men had been off fighting the war, the women were doing their part to keep the country moving. After working in factories, managing money and supporting their families, many women felt they were entitled to the right to say how the government should be run. In response to the anti-suffrage faction's reasoning that women were unwilling and incapable of making wise voting decisions, writer and suffragette, Alice Duer Miller, wrote a tongue-in-cheek response:

Why We Don't Want Men to Vote
-Because man's place is in the army
-Because no really manly man wants to settle any questions otherwise than by fighting about it
-Because if men should adopt peaceable methods, women will no longer look up to them
-Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms and drums
-Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government*

The suffrage movement's efforts paid off when, on August 18, 1920 Tennessee legislator, Harry Burn, who had previously voted anti-suffrage, cast the deciding vote in favor of suffrage at the urgings of his mother. After a very close vote, it was appropriate that the final decision was made under the influence of a woman, one of the strongest people in the world, a mother.

And whatever became of Nellie Tayloe Ross? After a failed attempt at reelection in 1926, she went on to become the vice chairman of the Democratic party. In May of 1933, Franklin Roosevelt appointed her first female director of the U.S. Mint. She died in 1977 at the age of 101, which would have made her able to join in the bra burning protests of the 1970's, had she been so inclined.

*Information gleaned from About.com:woman's history