I haven’t talked much about this book because it will be of interest to a very niche group of readers, but the book I wrote for the St. Louis Metro League of Women Voters is out! We’re celebrating its release this coming Sunday. So if you live in St. Louis, I’d love to see you!
“Raising Our Voices: League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis 1960-2022” demonstrates how League members advocated for change during six decades of tremendous upheaval. As a sequel to Avis Carlson’s history “The First 40 Years,” this book covers the next 62 years of League work. It includes member advocacy on controversial issues such as busing and school discrimination, the Equal Rights Amendment, election and campaign finance reform, voter suppression, and the National Popular Vote.
In addition to these headline-makers, the book chronicles the everyday work of the League to improve the St. Louis community and protect the rights of its citizens. Each decade includes information on League efforts focused on:
Key issues such as education and the environment
In addition, the book profiles more than 20 key League members in honor of their contributions that made a difference in those decades. Not just an essential read for League members, “Raising Our Voices” is an important resource for the entire St. Louis area and will inspire women’s history buffs from coast to coast. Part local history, part collective memoir, it captures the valuable and ongoing work of this organization to educate and empower voters and improve the status of women in the St. Louis area, the state of Missouri, and nationwide.
Buy the book
Please note that all proceeds go to the League of Women Voters of Metro St. Louis.
I got so busy yesterday I forgot to post part two! So you get two posts today. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.
Wave Two: 1960-1988 – Women Fight for Equality Key figures: Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Anna Nieto-Gómez, Sandra “Casey” Hayden, Mary King, Cherríe Moraga, Audre Lorde, Maxine Hong Kingston, and others.
The second wave of feminism in is often attributed to the strict gender roles that oppressed women in the wake of WWII. Despite new household technologies making homemaking easier than ever and socioeconomic change resulting in an abundance of new jobs not confined to the brute strength of men, women were still expected to fulfill many of the same roles they always had, and women were growing restless. In 1963 author Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique, criticizing how white women were shown in the media (as good little housewives with no drive or potential) and showing the emotional toll such a life took on women. Add to this the 1961 advent of the birth control pill which made employment without the threat of unexpected pregnancy a reality for the first time, and American females were primed for action.
It can also be said that there was a direct correlation between the fight for Civil Rights by African-Americans and the beginning of the second wave of feminism, which focused on equality for women. The Civil Rights movement gave women a template to follow and showed that their voices matter in terms of activism. These “radical feminists” went on to led the second wave in speaking out on violence and sexism.
Legal victories such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave women momentum. But this time, there wasn’t just one theme, but many. The women spurred on by consciousness raising meetings fought for the right for women to have access to and equal opportunity in the workforce, as well as the end of legal sex discrimination, championed reproductive rights (especially after 1973’s Rode v. Wade case made abortion legal) and spoke out against domestic violence and marital rape.
By the 1980s many people felt that the movement had achieved its goals through sexual harassment laws, the legalization of abortion and legislation that gave women more equal opportunities with men, so large-scale protests faded away, along with much of the energy behind the movement. Supporters still fought to uphold abortion rights and sexual harassment laws, promote full equality in the military and prevent violence against women, but overall it had lost its spark. On top of this, some feminists were starting to argue over the inclusion of sex workers in the feminism movement, a fight that would continue into the next wave.
The second wave was highly criticized by many African-American feminists and others of color as focusing far too much on the rights and politics of white women, as well as by the LGBT community for being too heteronormative.
Some of you may be aware that I’m working on a proposal for a non-fiction book on the history of U.S. feminism that I hope to have published on or near the 100th anniversary of American women getting the right to vote, which is August 19, 2020. This week, Diana at Creating Herstory is featuring a four-part article I wrote on this very same subject and I thought I’d repost the article each day as it runs on her site. It will give you a rough idea of what the book will include, although the book also will have a section on colonial feminist thought that this article doesn’t cover.
Image purchased from Adobe Stock
For me, every day is Women’s History month because I’m currently researching the history of the feminism movement in the United States for a book.
Honestly, although I’ve considered myself a feminist for more than 20 years, I never really thought much about the movement in general or how it came to be. But then I researched my historical fiction novel Madame Presidentess, which is about Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and the first woman to run for president in the U.S. in 1872 – 48 years before women won the right to vote. Because she was friends with the likes of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, I came to learn a lot about how feminism and women’s rights came to be in our country.
Historians generally agree that there have been at least three “waves” or intense periods of activity around women’s rights. But that is where the consensus ends. Exactly when these waves took place and what they encompassed is a serious matter of debate, especially where later waves are concerned. Some people (like me), believe we’re currently living in a fourth wave of feminism, while others say we’re still in the third or even in a fifth. There is even some debate on whether or not feminism in American dates back to colonial times, far before the generally accepted seminal event of the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.
While one article could never do justice to the many facets of the feminist movement (that’s what the book is for, and even then it is impossible to hit all points), here’s a brief summary of the three accepted waves, as well as my theory of a current fourth wave. All dates are approximate.
Wave One: 1840-1920 – Women Fight for Citizenship and Suffrage Key figures: Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Lucy Stone, Alice Paul, Carrie Chapman Catt, and others.
Susan B. Anthony (standing) and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Beginning in the 1830s, women started to quietly talk amongst themselves about their rights and to question why, under United States law, they were not considered full citizens. This eventually led to the first public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College in 1846 and the first public address about women’s rights the next year. The first women’s rights convention in the United States took place the following July in Seneca Falls, New York. From this meeting came the Declaration of Sentiments, which was modeled on the Declaration of Independence, was all about woman and her rights, or lack thereof, in the country at that time. It became the basis for the women’s rights movement until the Civil War disrupted the whole country and placed the public’s attention squarely on abolition.
After the Civil War, the women’s movement split into two groups divided over the idea of enfranchisement of blacks as well as whether universal suffrage should be granted at the Federal or state levels. Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were the leaders of the radical National Woman Suffrage Association, whose members believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote and called for a federal agreement for women suffrage. On the other side of the fence were Lucy Stone and the American Woman Suffrage Association, whose members supported the 15th Amendment and worked for women’s suffrage on a state-by-state basis.
This division hampered the efforts of both groups, by weakening resources, causing in-fighting within the movement and fracturing public attention. As time went on, some states granted suffrage on a case-by-case basis, usually beginning with school suffrage. The first state to grant women full voting rights was Wyoming in 1869. In 1872, Victoria Woodhull ran for president, even though she wasn’t technically old enough and the vast majority of women didn’t have the right to vote for her. Despite the odds, Susan B. Anthony succeeded in voting in that election (not for Victoria, as the two were bitter enemies by this point) but was arrested and found guilty of illegal voting. But she made history and headlines with her act, and her widely publicized trial spurred on flagging suffragists across the country. In 1875, Virginia Minor, a suffragist from Missouri, argued before the Supreme Court that women already had the right to vote under the 14th amendment of the Constitution, which that states suffrage is a right of all citizens of the United States. But the Supreme Court ruled against her, stating that all “men” had the right to vote, and the suffragists realized that the Federal government wasn’t going to help them. Thus began the decades-long campaign
Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Image purchased from Adobe Stock.
for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would enfranchise women.
The two warring factions of women’s suffrage finally reunited in 1890 as the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), under the united cause of getting suffrage state-by-state. Twenty-six years later, tired of this slow, tame approach, Alice Paul formed the National Woman’s Party, a militant group focused on the passage of a national suffrage amendment. The following year, more than 200 members of this group – known as the Silent Sentinels – were arrested while picketing the White House. Many of them went on hunger strikes in prison and were subjected to torture and barbaric practices like forced feeding. (These women were the Iron-Jawed Angels of the 2004 film of the same name.)
Despite these setbacks, the women’s movement continued under the leadership of Carrie Chapman Catt, who focused whole-heartedly on the national amendment from 1916 on. Women finally gained the right to vote on a Federal level on August 20, 1920. But it took a long time for the states to catch up (Mississippi was the last state in the union to ratify the Nineteenth Amendment in 1984) and it wasn’t for several decades that African-American women were truly able to vote without fear of discrimination and harm.
Tomorrow’s Part 2 will talk about the Second Wave of feminism, which lasted approximately from 1960-the late 1980s.
H. Balling, “Victoria C. Woodhull at the Polls,” Harper’s Weekly, 25 November 1871
With less than two weeks until the 2016 election here in the United States, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at how the voting process has changed since Victoria Woodhull’s time. Today we go into a private, curtained booth or at least stand at shielded machines to cast our vote. Unless we divulge it, there isn’t supposed to be any way for anyone else to know who we voted for.
In 1872, not so much.
When I went into my research for Madame Presidentess, I had no idea that votes weren’t always anonymous. America began using the “Australian Ballot” for presidential elections in 1888. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the Australian Ballot is defines as “the system of voting in which voters mark their choices in privacy on uniform ballots printed and distributed by the government or designate their choices by some other secret means.” 1888 is also the same year America used the first mass marketed automated polling system – the Myers Automatic Booth.
This ballot for the Equal Rights Party at the re-enactment of 1872 shows what the ballot for Victoria may have looked like. Note that no historical ballots for her exist.
Ballots I also didn’t know that your voting tickets weren’t always given to you at your polling place. Ballots were printed by regional printers, often in the newspapers and sometimes were written out by hand.
There was little uniformity in ballots. Some listed the Presidential Electors, some the candidates, some had photos of the candidates, some were small, some were excessively large. Some places had voters sign their name on the back to prevent fraud.
It was the responsibility for the parties as private organizations to provide these tickets. Parties had to station people at precincts in order to distribute tickets. Both had to be done before election day.
Few people at the time understood the political machine. (Actually, I’m not sure how many of us now really understand it.) Party agents translated platforms for the masses and were known to employ deception, bribery and manipulation to get votes for their candidate.
Voting took place in the county courthouse in the large towns, while immigrant neighborhoods favored the saloon as a polling place. In the country, saloons, general stores, homes, churches, fire stations, warehouses and livery stables all functioned as polling places. When Victoria attempted to vote in 1871, her polling place was a furniture store.
Intimidation and physical violence at polling places was common. Parties often provided free drinks (especially at saloons) to voters as an inducement to vote. Some even got them drunk before they voted so that the voter could be swayed. (If you want more information, I found this article on voter fraud in the 1800s very interesting.) Labor unions, employers, pastors/priests and hired thugs were all people a voter had to fear, especially if he was going to vote for someone those people didn’t want him to vote for. People had their houses burned or were beaten up or fired for going against the wishes of employers or unions.
The voting window separated the election officials from the voters. This required voters to step up onto a platform in full view of everyone else in the room to cast their vote. Men handed their ballot to the official, who put it in the corresponding box or glass globe labeled with the party or candidate, which was out of reach of the voter, but within sight of all. Tickets were only recognized as votes once they were in the hands of election judges.
Some states, like Missouri and Minnesota, allowed verbal voting, whereby a vote was stated publicly and recorded. This also made it very easy to know how an individual voted.
As early as the late 1860s, women were attempting to vote, even though they didn’t yet have the legal right. In 1868, in Vineland, New Jersey, 172 women cast their ballots in a separate box during the presidential election and vowed to do so again each year until they were granted the right to vote. Women in the Wyoming and Utah territories were granted the right to vote in 1869 and 1870, respectively. In 1871, Victoria Woodhull led a group of women in an attempt to vote that was documented by reporters. It is said that one woman managed to cast her ballot amid the chaos. The following year, Susan B. Anthony and 15 other women were arrested while voting for President Grant. Women continued to try to vote until finally being granted the right in August 1920.
Ackerman, Donald l. That’s the Ticket! A Century of American Political Ballots.
Bensel, Richard Franklin. The American Ballot Box in the Mid-19th Century.
In June 1871, Victoria Woodhull was anxious to re-launch her campaign for presidency, which had stalled since her shocking announcement of candidacy more than a year before. She began hosting parties in her home, which she called “at homes,” intimate affairs where the rich and powerful could get to know her as person in her private space, rather than just as a political figure. She invited bankers, lawyers, editors, clergymen, Congressmen, and even members of President Grant’s family (including his brother and father, Jesse Grant).
It is said that at one of these meetings “Congress was in session,” a congress of the people, that is, as it was a meeting of trade union workers, suffragists and other reformers, in addition to usual politicians and businessmen. Someone remarked that this was really the forming of a new political party, as they were people of like mind, supporting their candidate, Victoria. Together, they decided that instead of using the original name of Victoria’s party – The Cosmopolitical Party, which had too much of Stephen Pearl Andrew’s philosophy in it for the public’s taste – they would instead nominate her under the banner of the Equal Rights Party, a name with a storied past that would immediately call to mind unity and suffrage.
On July 4, 1871, the following letter was sent to Victoria, and later appeared in Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly:
Madame – A number of your fellow citizens, both men and women, have formed themselves into a working committee, borrowing its title from your name, calling itself THE VICTORIA LEAGUE.
Our object is to form a new national political organization, composed of the progressive elements in the existing Republican and Democratic parties, together with the Women of the Republic, who have been hitherto disenfranchised, but whom the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, properly interpreted, guarantee, equally with men, the right of suffrage.
This new political organization will be called THE EQUAL RIGHTS PARTY, and its platform will consist solely and only of a declaration of the equal civil and political rights of all American citizens, without distinction of sex.
We shall ask Congress at its next session to pass an act, founded on this interpretation of the Constitution, protecting women in the immediate exercise of the elective franchise in all parts of the United States, subject only to the same restrictions and regulations which are imposed by local laws on other classes of citizens.
We shall urge all women who possess the political qualifications of other citizens, in the respective states in which they reside, to assume and exercise the right of suffrage without hesitation or delay.
We ask you to become the standard-bearer of this idea before the people, and for this purpose nominate you as our candidate for President of the United States to be voted for in 1872 by the combined suffrages of both sexes.
If our plans merit your approval, and our nomination meet your acceptance, we trust that you will take occasion, in your reply to this letter, to express your views in full concerning the political rights of women under the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
Offering to you, Madam, the assurance of our great esteem, and harboring in our minds the cheerful presence of victory which your name inspires, we remain,
The Victoria League
The letter did not bear any member names. In her biography of Victoria, Lois Beachy Underhill argues that Victoria penned that letter herself, and it’s entirely possible. Victoria was a master of public relations, thanks in part to the skills her learned at her father’s knee and the influence of Stephen Pearl Andrews. Victoria and Theodore Tilton both strongly hinted that the Victoria League was supported and possibly even led by Cornelius Vanderbilt, a charge the railroad tycoon neither confirmed nor denied.
On July 20, 1871, Victoria wrote a lengthy response (too long to reproduce here, but carried in full in The Victoria Woodhull Reader) to the Victoria League letter in which she accepted their nomination and expounded upon her views. It contains one of my favorite lines of hers, “Little as the public think it, a woman who is now nominated may be elected next year” and this gem of pure grandeur and hubris so typical of Victoria’s attitude:
“Perhaps I ought not to pass unnoticed your courteous and graceful allusion to what you deem the favoring omen of my name. It is true that a Victoria rules the great rival nation opposite to us on the other shore of the Atlantic, and it grace the amity just sealed between our two nations, and be a new security of peace, if a twin sisterhood of Victoras were to preside over the two nations. It is true also that its mere etymology the name signifies Victory! and the victory for the right is what we are bent on securing…I have sometimes thought myself that there is perhaps something providential and prophetic in the fact that my parents were prompted to confer on me a name which forbids the very thought of failure.”
Have you heard of the Victoria League? Nowadays it’s better known as the name of a charitable organization for people of the Commonwealth countries. But it started as a reference to dear ol’ Vickie.
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria. Stern, Madeleine B. The Victoria Woodhull Reader. Underhill, Lois Beachey. The Woman Who Ran for President.
As we close out National Women’s History Month, I thought I’d give a brief history of the suffrage movement, mostly focusing on the pre-1900s time period because that is when my book is set. I haven’t done research later than that and will leave it others to tell the fascinating stories of the women who finally got us the right to vote. This list is by no means all-inclusive and is only meant to capture the high points. (I have also left out things that my main character did because I still don’t want to say who she is, though there is a hint in this post. Hopefully within a month, I can.)
1846 – First public debate on women’s rights at Oberlin College.
1847 – First public address about women’s rights.
1848 – First convention on women’s rights held in Seneca Falls.
1850 – First national women’s rights convention.
The Revolution 1868-1872 Paper run by Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
1860 – Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton formed the National Woman Suffrage Association. They were the more radical arm of the suffrage movement. Their group opposed the 15th Amendment and called for a Federal agreement for women suffrage. They believed that the enfranchisement of black and immigrant men would make it more difficult for women to be given the vote. They also believed the educated shouldn’t have to submit to slaves to ask to vote (hence, their opposition to the 15th Amendment). They also believed that divorce was justified in some cases, which set them at odds with their more conservative women’s rights peers.
Lucy Stone, who didn’t oppose enfranchisement of freedmen but still wanted universal suffrage, founded the American Womans Suffrage Association, supporting the 15th Amendment and working for women’s suffrage. They endorsed suffrage state by state, and were more conservative than the National Woman Suffrage Association.
1866 – Congress passed the 14th Amendment, introducing the word “male” into the Constitution as a qualification for voting.
1868 – The 200+ women of the spiritualist town of Vineland, New Jersey, cast their votes in a separate box and tried to get them counted among the men’s, an event they repeated for several years.
1870 – Fifteenth Amendment passed, giving black men the right to vote.
1875 – Virginia Minor took women’s suffrage to the Supreme Court in Minor V. Happerstatt, arguing that the Constitution already gave women the right to vote by declaring them citizens and giving all citizens the right to vote. The Court said citizenship did not imply the right to vote, but that the power was left to the states unless the federal government could be persuaded to amend the Constitution.
1880 –The National Woman Suffrage Association realized the state by state approach was probably best and focused on that, rather than Federal reform to get women the right to vote.
1890 – The National Woman Suffrage Association and American Womans Suffrage Association reunited as the National American Woman Sufferage Association
1920 – Women finally get the right to vote. (August 18)
Gabriel, Mary. Notorious Victoria. Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed. One Woman, One Vote: Rediscovering the Woman Suffrage Movement.
Do you have thoughts or questions about the early suffrage movement in America? It’s not my strongest subject, but I will definitely try to get answers.