“Revolutions are not won only by iconic heroines alone, they are won by hard-earned, often fractious coalitions,” writes Rebecca Mark, Director, Institute for Women’s Leadership, and Professor, Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. “As we celebrate the centennial of women’s voting rights, we should remember the contributions of many diverse women.”
For Independence Day, Mark reflects on the nearly forgotten contributions of the many women and coalitions that contributed to the movement.
The Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Alice Paul version of suffrage history is just part of the story. As we celebrate the centennial of women’s voting rights, we should remember the contributions of many diverse women.
Louise McDonald Herne (Wakerakatste) a condoled Bear Clan Matron for the Mohawk Nation Council confirms and amplifies historian Sally Roesch Wagner’s research that the 19th century women of the Haudenosaunee taught Seneca Falls neighbors Matilda Joselyn Gage, Lucinda Mott, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton the model of their gender-equitable society.
The concept of Onkwehonwe-neha connecting spirituality, government, and child-bearing, should become part of our understanding of the world. The names of the Haudenosaunee women who taught our foremothers should be spoken beside the names of iconic suffragists.
For black suffragists Ida B.Wells, Mary Church Terrell, Adella Hunt Logan, Charlotte Forten Grimké and the National Association of Colored Women the passage of the 19th amendment was not a victory. It was instead a rallying cry to continue the struggle, only partially rectified by the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Black people are still fighting to vote without violent retaliation and suppression.
Women who love women are hidden in plain sight throughout the history of the suffrage movement. Susan B. Anthony and Emily Gross were lovers. Life-long partners, Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, Anna Howard Shaw and Lucy Elmina Anthony were in the forefront of the movement.
Suffragists fought not just for the vote but for women’s right to control their earnings, own property, divorce their husbands, and take custody of their children. They advocated for better schools, the regulation of child labor, and the right to join trade unions.
Leonora O’Reilly a working class suffragist, helped create the New York Women’s Trade Union League which demanded higher pay, safer working conditions, shorter hours, and childcare.
Revolutions are not won by iconic heroines alone; they are won by hard-earned, often fractious, coalitions. The Haudenosaunee women who made it possible for early suffragists to imagine equity for women did not become eligible to vote in the nation that had stolen their land and killed their loved ones until 1924.
Forward through the Darkness, Forward into Light.
The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, the largest expansion of democracy in U.S. history. While adding millions to the voting roles, the struggle to include African Americans and other marginalized communities continues. This article is part of a centennial series of reflections by Rutgers scholars on the impact of women’s right to vote.