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One century later, a fight to vote is worth remembering

The year 2020. This is going to be a year of unending puns and jests: Hindsight is 2020; We see the world with 2020 vision; etc. Who knows? Maybe our vision will clear and we will see what we are doing to our planet.

I’d like to talk about some anniversaries during the year 2020. Some famous people were born 100 years ago. Science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov; actress Maureen O’Hara; Actors Mickey Rooney and Walter Matthau were all born in 1920. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel old. But what makes me feel even older is that DeForest Kelley (Leonard “Bones” McCoy on “Star Trek”) and James Doohan (Montgomery “Scotty” Scott, also on “Star Trek”) were born 100 years ago. I am a devout Trekky and I loved these guys.

Florence Nightingale, that angel of mercy during the Crimean War, was born 200 years ago this year. And the death of King George III, that “inflexible tyrant,” with whom the Colonists fought for our freedom, occurred during 1820.

There are numerous multiples of 100-year anniversaries during this upcoming year. I will only briefly mention a few. Terrorism isn’t new to the last century. In 1920 a bomb on a horse-drawn wagon exploded in front of the J.P. Morgan building on Wall Street. Bloody Sunday in Dublin during the Irish War for Independence occurred, and the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I during 1920.

But the big news, the most influential events in our lifetimes, was the enactment of Prohibition in January of 1920 and Women’s Suffrage. The Women’s Temperance Movement was instrumental in getting Prohibition passed, but Prohibition only lasted thirteen years, and gave rise to gangster criminals who fought violent and deadly turf battles. We romanticize the Roaring 20s and the gangster era, but in reality it was a dangerous time in American history. (For a good read on Prohibition go to: )

Along with Prohibition came Women’s Suffrage. The 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote, was ratified in 1920. But it was a long, protracted campaign, often filled with violence and terror. The territories of Wyoming and Utah gave women the right to vote long before it became law. The 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, gave voting rights regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” in other words, black men, but not to women of any color or condition.

The Women’s Suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls with a convention in 1848. More than 300 people, men and women, attended. The inequalities outlined at this convention included: no voice in the laws; no independent rights after marriage; no custody of children in case of divorce; no right to a college education; no opportunity to enter most professions, and; no right to vote.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and countless other women led the campaigns for Equal Rights. These women created a political movement that was powerful and non-violent. The only violence was toward the women by a male dominated political system.

Quiet demonstrations began, and civil disobedience became a staple of the Women’s Movement. Pickets were stationed in front of the White House for months, asking President Woodrow Wilson when women would receive equality. In 1917, these peaceful women began to be arrested with charges of “obstructing traffic.” The women were imprisoned in Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia or in the District of Columbia jail. They demanded to be treated as political prisoners, but instead were thrown into cold, rat infested cells. The guards treated them harshly.

Dorothy Day, for whom many a homeless shelter and soup kitchen are named, on the night of Nov. 14, 1917, had her arms twisted above her head, then slammed down over the arm of an iron bench. Beatings and rough handling became commonplace. In protest, Alice Paul, who had led the women in protest, refused to eat. Hunger strikes became a normal occurrence. Not wanting martyrs for the cause, prison officials condoned force feeding and prison guards brutally forced food down their throats.

Women were hospitalized by the hundreds for peacefully protesting. Their non-violent movement became a template for the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. And the women were treated with brutality, just as our African Americans were forty years later.

There are men in public office, men of power, who still regard the 19th Amendment with animosity. They would have women subjugated, unable to voice their opinions, even today. Thankfully there is a larger group of men, who believe women to be their partners in the running of this country.

The right to vote for women and minorities was a battle in every sense of the word. These people stood up for what they believed in and gained a right we so often take for granted. National elections are coming this fall. I’m sure this won’t be my only plea for you to become informed. It won’t be the last time I implore you to vote. It makes a difference, particularly on the local level. Positions and offices have been won or lost by one vote. You make a difference. Do not lightly discard your right to have a voice.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident.

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