WPCCU Celebrates Women History Month
Don't forget the ladies
As the month of March begins, WPCCU would like to pay homage to the women who gave the better part of their lives fighting so that succeeding generations of women could enjoy basic rights to own property, enter into contracts and, ultimately, vote. We pen this article for our daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters so they will understand and recognize how these women changed the path to the future for us.
The men of colonial America wrote and ratified the Declaration of Independence, thinking they had authored an extremely revolutionary document. But, there was at least one woman who knew they had it all wrong—well, at least halfway wrong. Abigail Adams (wife of John Adams, one of the original signers of the Declaration and who became the second president of the United States), wrote her husband letters that reminded him he should not forget the ladies. Her plea was ignored but her letters became the first shot over the bough for women’s rights in the United States.
Fighting for the right to vote
During the colonial and revolutionary periods, the right to vote was restricted to property owners—the majority being white, male Protestants. New Jersey’s constitution enfranchised all adult inhabitants who owned a specific amount of property. This included women. That progressive loophole was closed in 1807, when the language was changed to only tax-paying white men. Throughout these periods, women continued to write about inequality. Joining Abigail Adams were enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley, Massachusetts native Judith Sargent Murray, and British philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft.
The early suffragettes joined forces with the abolitionist movement allowing women to gain experience as leaders, organizers and writers. At the first National Women’s Rights Convention in 1850, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott presented the Declaration of Sentiments, which was fashioned after the Declaration of Independence but with the addition of women being equal to men. This document had the support of Frederick Douglass, one of the few men who attended the convention and continually supported the early women’s rights movement.
So why did it take so long for women to get the right to vote? Disagreements over strategy threatened to cripple the movement more than once. Finally, in 1878, the Women’s Suffrage Amendment was brought to Congress. It failed. Then one by one, individual states passed laws allowing women the right to vote, with Colorado being the first and California being the fifth (California was the first state to extend property rights to women.) The sea of change started in the west and gradually moved east. Tennessee was the state that gave the amendment the two-thirds majority it needed to be passed. Congressman Harry Burn of Tennessee cast the decisive vote in favor of ratification. When asked why he voted for the amendment, he said it was because his mother told him it was the right thing to do. When the 19th Amendment finally passed, 41 years later, it was worded exactly the same as the original 1878 Amendment.
Many women sacrificed greatly for the women’s vote to become a reality. Susan B. Anthony and Alice Paul were Quakers. Quakers, in addition to believing in non-violence, believed that men and women should study, live and work as equals. These women were imprisoned, treated as mental patients and abused for their belief that women should have the right to vote.
We would like to mention other names of women (and men) who supported women’s equality during the early years. They include: Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth (former slave), Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Victoria Woodhull, Abigail Scott Duniway, Carrie Chapman Catt, Dr. Mabel Ping-Hua Lee, Mabel Vernon, Lucy Stone, Mary Church Terrell, Woodrow Wilson, Mary Dreier and Jeannette Rankin (first woman, in 1917, to be elected to House of Representatives.) Many of the women listed led fascinating lives and we encourage our members to Google them. We apologize for omitting the names of many others who rallied, picketed, went on hunger strikes and were beaten in order for women to gain the right to vote. We all are forever in their debt.
Celebrate Women's History Month
Join WPCCU in March to honor and celebrate Women’s History Month. We’ve collected some inspirational and fun events. (click here)