Category Archives: voting rights

Suffragists picked up their soapboxes and went to town!

Not only did the suffragists march in huge parades, but in some events they even carried portable soapboxes (such as in the photo below) in the event an opportunity arose for them to stand up on a street corner and speak. It was a novelty for women to speak in public back then as Susan B. Anthony knew well. And it was equally daring to climb up on a soap box and speak for as long as a crowd gathered to listen. This took considerable courage. The suffragists had to duck water thrown on them and smile in the face of insults and worse. The men who marched in suffrage parades also faced jeers and insults. Critics accused them of tagging after the “girls.” One man anonymously wrote a book entitled How it feels to be the husband of a suffragette. It’s not only funny, but you get the point. And it’s free for the download.

A suffrage wagon named “Victory”: Look out Saudi Arabia!

The evidence of another suffrage campaign wagon known as “Victory” has surfaced in a 1915 news article about a torchlight suffrage parade in New York City. The wagon was accompanied by decorated automobiles, bands, and marchers representing different segments of society. Saudi women and others throughout the world today are curious about U.S. suffrage history and for good reason. See Bonnie Smith’s comments on the Suffrage Wagon News Channel about the curiosity of women from other parts of the world in our Votes for Women history.

The strength and power of organizing for rights can be seen in the evidence of Saudi Arabia relenting and throwing a few crumbs in the direction of its women residents. I use the word “residents” because they still have second-class status. Beginning in 2013, Saudi women can be appointed to the shura council (a policy advisory organization). In 2015 Saudi women will be able to vote and run for municipal elections. Women still aren’t full citizens, and they aren’t allowed to drive cars. If they decide to run for office on the local level, they’ll need permission from their husbands, fathers or male guardians. Reform? A baby step, perhaps.

Bad girls and troublemakers!

“History Detectives” was a great way to begin the week, along with Louise Bernikow’s article for the Women’s Media Center about this deep dark hole of our history.  You can watch the “History Detectives” show online after the fact.

Part of the thrill of doing this work is when my grandmother Edna Kearns speaks to me, when I can hear her voice above the noise and chatter of present day. Above all, she’s saying, “Don’t give up. Lucretia Mott took a lot of flack in her day from people who said she wanted too much too soon. And take Susan B. Anthony as an example. Ridiculed often, she never wavered from her goal.” Hefty advice for the days when we feel overwhelmed, isolated, discouraged. Hang in there, says Grandmother.

Notes pioneer women’s historian Anne Firor Scott: “It is worth trying to understand the past because in the process of doing so one learns so much about the possibilities and mysteries of human existence at the same time one is learning how partial and incomplete is even the most careful reconstruction of lives, events, and social movements. Sometimes I am willing to say, with Leonard Woolf, The Journey Not the Arrival Matters.” (From Making the Invisible Woman Visible.)

Anne Firor Scott’s interview with North Carolina Public Radio commentator Frank Stasio is worth a listen. Scott speaks about her life, women’s history, teaching and her perspective on the current state of affairs in the world. She reminds us that scholars and history buffs aren’t escapists in the sense that we prefer to live in the past instead of the present. Rather, we reach out to bridge the past with the present and extract the lessons meant for us today.

Risks, danger = nothing stopped the suffs!


The suffragists took risky actions in the name of Votes for Women. They did almost anything, just like I’m shamelessly promoting Tuesday’s “History Detectives” program (PBS, 8-9 p.m.) to spread the word about our exciting suffrage history. The 1909 climb to the top of Mt. Rainier also has a food angle because these same women published the Washington Women’s Cookbook. See also my most-recent posting for BUST.

The suffs acted fearlessly, not only to keep the issue of voting alive, but also to send the message that they wouldn’t give up until reaching their goal. One of my favorite stories is about a suffragist –Elizabeth Smith Miller– who planned to train a green parrot to belt out Votes for Women slogans. Miller died before she could carry out her plan. Winning the vote for women was uphill, just as it is challenging today to bring suffrage history into the crowded marketplace and compete for people’s attention.

Here’s another segment from the “Votes for Women Salon” audio interview with Louise Bernikow who’s one of the historical consultants for the “History Detectives” segment. Louise talks about the support for suffrage on the grassroots, which is what Yvonne Crumly’s grandmother Addie represents in the “History Detectives” segment. If you can’t watch the “History Detectives” post, check in with Suffrage Wagon News Channel for a link in the next post so you can watch at your convenience!

Blogging for BUST

Though the term “blog” didn’t come into use until 1999, it’s just like me to tell folks that Grandmother Edna blogged suffrage news and reported it much like a citizen journalist would today.  Edna wrote columns, press releases and was suffrage editor for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. She served as press chair for suffrage campaigns and had relationships with every news editor on Long Island.

Grandmother participated in suffrage events and then she raced home to write about the experience. The outcome wasn’t instant like a blog would be, but it was as fast as could be expected back then. A few women like Ishbel Ross and Emma Bugbee broke into writing through the suffrage movement. Check out this case study of Ross and Bugbee and how they got into “the exciting newspaper game.” The story of how Ross tracked down Mrs. Pankhurst led to her later comment about she owed her newspaper career to this front-page interview. Bugbee covered the 1914 march to Albany and the incident in front of the Metropolitan Opera in 1919 with Alice Paul and others where Grandmother Edna was smack in the middle of the fray.

While we’re waiting for the September 20th “History Detectives” program to air, I’m posting more audio comments from author and historian Louise Bernikow. Here, she speaks about the chronic forgetting of suffrage history.

Photo by Peter Norby.

Potential for “Cultural Tourism” or “Heritage Tourism” in Oregon during 2012

Oregon’s 1912 victory for Votes for Women is bringing a lot of history out of the bottom bureau drawer. See excellent article, the web site devoted to the centennial — a “Century of Action” in Oregon — and the building momentum of awareness about the political potential of women voting today. The lives of Oregon activists such as Abigail Scott Dunaway (close friend of Susan B. Anthony) are highlighted in an audio program on Oregon public radio worth listening to. Discussions like this raise nagging contemporary questions about pay equity, affordable day care, paid maternity leave, women holding political office and much more.

Free download of suffrage music

Music. You gotta have music on August 26th, even if it’s from your own boom box. For starters, performer Gerri Gribi has a free download of “Oh, Dear, What can the matter be?” which is direct from the suffrage movement.  And playing “Fall in Line,” a suffrage march, will give your High Tea an air of authenticity. Formal invitations aren’t necessary. Surprise your guests by phoning them personally.

The program (below) is also from the February 1915 tea at the Hotel Biltmore honoring Susan B. Anthony and Dr. Anna Howard Shaw. It’s an example of the effort poured into movement tea parties and receptions. Check out the video about Rep. Bella Abzug who sponsored federal legislation for the creation of Women’s Equality Day in 1971.  The August 26th observance acknowledges the Votes for Women victory in 1920 and makes a bridge between the past and the present.