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Passage of women's right to vote anticlimactic after long fight

March 19, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

The struggle for the right of women to vote started in the mid-1800s before the Civil War. The most well-known American suffragist (although "suffragette" was the term used in England, it was considered demeaning in the United States) is Susan B. Anthony, but many other women around the country were fighting for the same goal.

Many were arrested and spent time in jail, where they often embarked on hunger strikes.

Anthony died in 1906 - years before women across the country were granted the right to vote. The 19th Amendment was passed by Congress in 1919 and sent to the states for ratification. After Tennessee ratified it the following summer, the amendment, sometimes called the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was formally adopted on Aug. 26, 1920.

Its passage was no surprise and did not - the editors at the time apparently believed - warrant a banner headline in the following day's Morning Herald.

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"No Ceremony In Signing Of The 1920 Amendment" reads the sub-headline in the Friday, Aug. 27, 1920, edition of paper. (The banner headline was: "Poland Tells U.S. Her Counter Stroke At Bolsheviki Nearing An End; Harding Receives Data From Europe Giving Opinions Of Statesmen There On Peace Issues.")

The Associated Press story about the amendment's passage was datelined the day before in Washington, D.C. It begins: "Without pomp or ceremony, Secretary Colby today signed the proclamation declaring the Woman Suffrage amendment 'to all intents and purposes a part of the constitution of the United States.'"

Newspapers from the days before and after the amendment's passage contained quite a bit of content related to the suffrage movement.

A political cartoon published on the front page on Aug. 24, 1920, was titled "Mother's Busy Now." It shows a bespectacled woman wearing an apron, sitting on a porch swing and reading a book titled "History of American Politics." She is surrounded by political pamphlets and campaign leaflets, while a broom and dustpan are nearby unused. Cobwebs are gathering on a side table and houseplant.

The cartoon's implication seems to be that women voters not only would neglect their household duties, but needed to study up on history.

A question-and-answer series written by a woman for women ran in the days leading up to and after the amendment's ratification.

In the column, titled "ABCs For Women Voters," an attorney, Grace R. Berger, answered questions from readers. "A Reader" asked in the Aug. 30, 1920, edition whether "the men who are nt in love with women suffrage will make it embarrassing for women who go to the polls in the Fall?"

Berger responded: "No, I don't think that men who are gentlemen (and I believe that most men try to be gentlemen at least in the presence of ladies), will do anything but what is courteous and polite in their treatment of women voters, even though these very men have been stern opponents to the suffrage cause. Miss 'Reader,' don't forget you have as much right at the polls as the very ones whom you fear will ridicule and jest. If anyone should stay away from the polls, let that one be the one who scoffs."

Milestone in Montana

Four years before women in all states could vote, the nation's first woman to serve in Congress was elected. In 1916, Jeanette Rankin of Montana was elected as a Republican to serve in the House of Representatives.

Montana granted women the right to vote in 1914.

After voting against declaring war on Germany in 1917, Rankin lost her bid for a Senate seat the following year. She was elected to the House again in 1940 and cast the sole "no" vote to declaring war on Japan after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Widely criticized for that vote, Rankin did not seek re-election. She continued throughout her life to advocate for peace and later protested against the war in Vietnam.

Today getting women elected isn't the problem. It's getting women on the ballot that can be difficult, some say.

"When women run for office they're just as likely to be elected as a man is," said Stephanie A. Slocum-Schaffer, a political science professor at Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va. "The big problem we have is there aren't as many women running (as men)."

Age could be a factor, since many women choose not to run for office until they are older and have raised a family, Slocum-Schaffer said.

When they do run they tend to run for local offices, such as a board of education seat or prosecutor. Fewer women are running for seats on the national level, Slocum-Schaffer said.

The United States has not had a women elected to the presidency because the pool of qualified candidates is so small, Slocum-Schaffer, 37, said she believes.

Still, she said she thinks the nation will have a woman president in her lifetime.

Theories on why women are not drawn to politics vary, with some believing women don't believe they can succeed.

Slocum-Schaffer said she believes the more likely possibility is that women might be put off by the aggressive, backstabbing and winner-versus-loser nature of politics. Negotiating and forming a consensus often are the goals of women working together in state politics, she said.

A significantly higher number of women than men vote, said Slocum-Schaffer, who said she's hopeful for the future of women in politics.

"I'm hoping that more women will start to run and be involved," she said. "If a woman wins she's probably going to be as successful as a man."

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