100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment


Tuesday, Aug 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment that safeguarded the right of women to vote in the United States. I say Christians should care about this for three reasons:

  1. It is a human rights issue. Christians are called to have a concern for all the legitimate rights of all people.
  2. It is a stewardship issue. God gives everyone gifts, and we need to bring forward everyone’s gifts, including their wisdom and their voices.
  3. If we want to bring about societal change (who thinks we need to change some things?) it can be useful to look at how it has been done successfully in the past.

The women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 at a convention at Seneca Falls, New York.  It was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Susan B. Anthony would join the movement in 1851). It was supported by Fredrick Douglass from the beginning, and there was a lot of connection between the anti-slavery movement and the women’s suffrage movement.  Let us not forget that this concern was present in our country from the beginning. I have read that Abigail Adams, confidant and counsellor to her husband John (and every bit his equal in intellect and will) pushed him to further the rights of women in moving the country forward.

There is an interesting movie called “Iron Jawed Angels” about the last few years of the suffrage movement (warning: not family friendly!) and a small book about the same period called “Founding Sisters” by Eleanor Clift. We meet some interesting characters: the brilliant strategist Alice Paul, the standard bearer Inez Millholland (who literally gave her last bit of strength for the movement), and the driving force Carrie Chapman Catt.  I do not want to forget Ida B. Wells (or Ida Wells-Barnett), a journalist who also was a crusader again lynching and other issues. There are, of course too many important names to do justice to them all.

Notice that the movement began in 1840 and did not succeed until 1920.  Making important changes in our society is a marathon, not a sprint.  Many people get enthusiastic about a cause, get involved, but when they don’t see rapid progress right away, the passion cools, and they go on to other things. It is my observation that if we want to do real good, we shall have to work harder than we thought for longer than we expected to accomplish less than we hoped. The prize belongs to those who do not then give up.

They were careful and clever about how they did things.  If I understand the history correctly, they were willing to go to jail for their cause, but they did not recklessly disobey laws. They did not act like the rightness of their cause was license to ignore the rights of others. There were powerful people who opposed them, and they were not going to give anyone excuses to shut them down.

I get the sense they were clear and pretty consistent in their messages.  The movement, of course had many people who disagreed about strategy, but they were disciplined in their voice to the world.

There is an organization called Feminists for Life (feministsforlife.org) that is a pro-life group.  They say that “women deserve better than abortion” and they have quoted a lot of the early women’s rights advocates condemning abortion.  If I understand the history correctly, it was later, when a few well-placed people persuaded key women’s rights advocates that equality included the ability to imitate the most sexually irresponsible men, that defending abortion became so connected with women’s rights.  Not all women bought it, however, and many desperately regret the philosophy that brought it about. Many have said it has facilitated the exploitation of women. This is a discussion for another blog.

The work to make our country more faithful to its founding principles for all people continues in our time. How will history remember us?

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