Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Her Inalienable Right to the Elective Franchise

In precinct A of Roscoe, Ohio, Catherine Christofel, accompanied by her daughter, went to the polls at noon on November 2, 1920, and did the one thing that the 93-year-old woman had never been allowed to do before, she voted. When asked by a reporter of the Coshocton Tribune who would get her vote in this, her first presidential election, Catherine smiled and said, “I'm not telling my politics, and besides the ballot is secret.”

In Athens, Ohio, the 90-year-old mother of a congressman arrived at 5:30 AM to wait in line for the polls to open so she too could cast her very first ballot. In Indiana, the Indianapolis Star reported five sisters, aged 73 to 94, would also be voting in their first presidential election.

And so it went, across the country, women made their way to polling places and exercised the same rights as their fathers, brothers and husbands — the right to vote. The 19th Amendment that conferred this right had been proposed on June 4, 1919, and on August 18, 1920, the amendment received the necessary two-thirds majority of state ratification when Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. It was signed into law by Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby on August 26. The amendment read:

“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.”

In Georgia and Mississippi, where the state legislatures had previously rejected the 19th Amendment, women were told they could not vote. These states claimed a requirement of registration six months prior to an election in order for an individual to vote. Either women who showed up at polling places were turned away or their ballots destroyed.

The road to women's suffrage had been a long one. Catherine Christofel would have been 21 when the first Woman's Rights Convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York Elizabeth Cady Stanton, with the help of Lucretia Mott, created a written document called “Declaration of Sentiments” which proposed, among other things, extending voting rights to all citizens of the United States.

After the Civil War, this idea of universal suffrage was embraced by those supporting both black and woman Suffrage. Frederick Douglass, a former slave turned statesman and reformer, was an outspoken supporter of both black and woman suffrage. However, with the proposal and impending ratification of the 14th and 15th amendments, some women in the movement were angry at Douglass's push for the two amendments’ passage pointing out that women were once again left out of the voting franchise.

Notice the difference in wording of the 15th Amendment and the 19th Amendment. The 15th Amendment 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 race, color or previous condition of servitude.”

Douglas defended his support of the 15th amendment at the Equal Rights Association in May 1869, stating:

“When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lampposts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed to the pavement; when they are objects of insults and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot.”

Some of the leaders of the women's movement refused to support the ratification of the 15th Amendment without the inclusion of women in the voting franchise. Others worked hard for its passage, feeling that this would be the first step to ensuring their own voting rights.

On February 3, 1870, the 15th Amendment was ratified, giving all male citizens the right to vote. With a few notable exceptions (Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho and for a time, Utah) women would wait another 50 years before their time would come.

For Catherine Christofel and the other women who voted that cold rainy day in November of 1920, the time had been long enough.

Until Next Time …

Note this post first published online, March 04, 2008, at Desktop Genealogist Blog at The News-Messenger Online http://www.thenews-messenger.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=BLOGS02

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