Leadership, Change and the Nineteenth Amendment

August 18, 2020

One hundred years and counting. August 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex. Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”Today, we might wonder how passage of this amendment could have taken so long even as we might wonder why it didn’t take even longer. It’s a story well worth the telling and retelling, a story of leadership and change worth finding the time to hear, to read, and to share. It is, of course, a story of change long in coming and still incomplete, a story of sweeping history and filled with individual sagas. It is a story, like most stories of major change, of clarity of vision, development of tactics and coalitions, grinding perseverance, and personal prices paid. In the American context, by necessity, the struggle crisscrosses and intertwines with race and racism. (See in particular Martha S. Jones’ Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, Cathleen D. Cahill’s Recasting the Vote: How Women of Color Transformed the Suffrage Movement, Sarah Deer’s multiple works on violence and Native American women or read Cahill and Deer’s recent article in the NYT, “In 1920, Native Women Sought the Vote. Here’s What’s Next.”)
I have a particular admiration for Susan B. Anthony and Sojourner Truth (once enslaved in New York and then escaped or, as she said, “I did not run away, I walked away by daylight….” ), lifelong warriors for human rights who did not live to see the passage of the 19th Amendment, but whose labors undeniably helped to bring it forth. I offer a few of their quotes as a way to commemorate this day, the struggle stretching ahead, and all the strong and independent women in my life, beginning with my family of origin and especially including my feminist wife and daughters,  

It is the mind that makes the body. (ST)

The true republic: men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less. (SBA)

We do as much, we eat as much, we want as much. (ST)

 Trust me that as I ignore all law to help the slave, so will I ignore it all to protect an enslaved woman. (SBA)

Our job is not to make young women grateful. It is to make them ungrateful so they keep going. Gratitude never radicalized anybody. (SBA)

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman? I have…seen most all of my children sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain’t I a woman? (ST)

This is rather different from the receptions I used to get fifty years ago. They threw things at me then but they were not roses. (SBA) 

I am not going to die, I’m going home like a shooting star. (ST)

 To think, I have had more than 60 years of hard struggle for a little liberty, and then to die without it seems so cruel. (SBA) 

Truth is powerful and it prevails. (ST)        

May we draw strength and guidance from these leaders of change.  Be well. Stay well.