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Suffrage doesn't mean domestic violence.
By Belle Byrd
Sometimes history feels like one big study in injustice or a huge corn dog fight. Whoever has the biggest corn dog wins. And by corn dog, we're actually referring to what swings between a man's legs (or doesn't, in less well-endowed specimens.) With Occupy Wall Street and the 2012 presidential campaign dominating the headlines, it makes sense to reflect on the history of inequality. One topic likely flitting on the minds of Quail Bell(e)s from time to time is women's suffrage. After all, what other group of American women should inspire the modern woman more than 19th and early 20th-century suffragists?
In the U.S., women have had a fickle relationship with the right to vote. Sometimes The Vote calls and sometimes he doesn't, and sometimes a suffragette has to spend three-quarters of a century trying to schedule a second date.
Lydia Taft, a widow living in Massachusetts, was granted the right to vote in town meetings in 1756. That was 164 years before women nation-wide could exercise the same right. As far as anyone can tell, she was the only lady voting during the colonial era. The reasons were clear: She was rich, outspoken, and had no man to lord over her life (though her husband had been a pretty big fish.)
New Jersey had some sense as early as 1776 when its voting laws referred to voters as "he or she." Then in 1807, New Jersey lost its sense and unconstitutionally said, "Sorry, gals."
Wyoming didn't wake up to pick up the suffrage slack until 1869, when it passed a bill that stated, "Every woman of the age of twenty-one years, residing in this Territory, may at every election to be holden under the law thereof, cast her vote."Of course, given its tiny population, there weren't many women in Wyoming, but the ones who were there were tough birds. They knew what they wanted, and, by the way, to hell with corsets!
Utah batted next, but didn't score a home run. In 1870, women gained the right to vote. Yay! In 1887, they lost it. Boo!
A lot happened between then and 1920--mostly a bunch of passionate picketing. (The webpage for National American Woman Suffrage Association Collection presents a detailed timeline of the fight for women's suffrage in the United States if you'd like specifics.)
Finally, under the 19th Amendment, American women from sea to shining sea gained the right to vote. Suffragists didn't just issue a sigh of relief; they fainted, though not in a pathetic damsel-in-distress sort of way.) While women's rights still had a ways to go, the suffragists had won a colossal fight WITHOUT whipping out their corn dogs!
Knowing that all these trials and tribulations stain the public record, you should respect what your sisters in history fought to get you. Start following those 2012 debates. Think. Form opinions. Vote. Wearing an 1890s duster is completely optional...but highly encouraged.