Lynn Sherr in Bill Moyers Blog:
My mother was born in the United States of America without the right to vote. I just stopped to re-read that sentence because it seems so, you know, quaint. Okay, preposterous. By the time she neared voting age in 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, prohibiting federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote “on account of sex.” For the next seven decades, Mother didn’t miss an election. As a child, I remember watching her dress for the occasion: girdle and stockings, dress and heels, hat and gloves, because like many first-generation Americans who’d endured two World Wars, she considered voting a formal affair, a sacred privilege — and duty — defined by her citizenship. That’s my ritual, too (without the body armor), which is why this Friday, Aug. 26 — the 96th anniversary of the day American women got the vote — I’ll offer my annual thanks to the women and men who made it happen. Their exhausting slog over more than half a century was, as noted by the leader of the final surge, Carrie Chapman Catt, agonizing: “480 campaigns to urge legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters; 47 campaigns to induce state constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to persuade state party conventions to include woman suffrage planks; 30 campaigns to urge presidential party conventions to adopt woman suffrage planks in party platforms, and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.” Not to mention countless insults, inanities and hurled rotten eggs. But the result changed the dynamic, opening the electoral process to more individuals than ever before in American history. And with Hillary Clinton now tying her historic candidacy to the legacy of our foremothers, it’s useful to recall its unique place in our often grudgingly shared democracy.
Early suffrage leaders understood their goal as a natural right of citizenship, right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who rewrote the Declaration of Independence along feminist lines for the 1848 Seneca Falls women’s rights convention, bemoaned the “degradation of disfranchisement.” But when men didn’t share on the simple grounds of equality, some women resorted to a higher calling — moral superiority — slyly predicting that female reformers would elevate and cleanse the corrupt political world; that everything from the drunken rowdiness on election day to the character of candidates would be purified. According to Susan B. Anthony, woman suffrage would “compel both political parties to nominate candidates of the highest character. A woman would no more vote for a low-down man than a good man for a degraded woman.”