“Why should I vote?” the young woman asked me. “Does it really matter?”
The year was 1917. Woodrow Wilson was President. The United States had just entered in to World War One – in defense of liberty.
Women had been picketing the White House for the right to vote since the cold month of January. These women were the first protesters in American history to picket the White House.
“Mr. President,” the woman’s sign read. “How long must women wait for liberty.”
With the United States now at war, treatment of the protesters changed. While the President tolerated the protesters in January, by June things began to change.
The irony of fighting for liberty abroad while not giving American women the right to vote was not lost on the protesters. Tensions escalated.
On June 22, 1917 the picketing women were arrested - technically on a charge of obstructing traffic. Over several months, according to the historians at the Library of Congress, “the women were imprisoned – usually in unsanitary conditions, sometimes beaten and often brutally force-fed when they went on hunger strikes to protest being denied political prisoner status.”
News of the treatment of women in prison and even photos of the women (now archived in the Library of Congress) helped galvanize public support and sympathy for their cause.
“One historian estimated that approximately 2,000 women spent time on the picket line between 1917 and 1919 and that 500 women were arrested of whom 168 were actually jailed,” recorded the Library of Congress.
In February and March of 1919, women who had been jailed organized a cross county speaking tour aboard a train named “Democracy Limited.” The woman brought the message of expanding the right to vote to all people in the United Stated, regardless of gender.
In May of 1919, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Susan B. Anthony federal suffrage amendment and on June 4th the Senate passed the same. This began a state by state fourteen month campaign to seek ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Finally, on August 20th, 1920 Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and on the 26th of August the Nineteenth Amendment was signed into law.
Today our troops, as far way as Afghanistan, are still fighting for democracy. And people abroad still risk their lives to vote. We can honor the memory of those who fought – at home and abroad – for our rights by doing our civic duty: studying the candidates and casting our vote.
Here are a few details for your friends and relatives who say “I can’t vote because…”
- You are eligible to vote if you are a U.S. citizen, at least 18 years old on Election Day and a resident of Wisconsin at least 10 days before the election.
- Persons who are on probation or parole due to a felony conviction are not eligible to vote.
- You must be registered to vote or you may register at the polls on Election Day. If you are not registered already, be sure and bring your drivers license and proof of residence. If you do not have a driver’s license, please see vote411.org for a list of acceptable identification or ask your local clerk.
- Polls are open from 7 AM to 8 PM and long lines may be expected in some areas.
Yesterday I spoke with a gentleman from Eau Claire. “I just returned from China,” he said. “Everywhere I went, people wanted to talk about the election.”
We don’t think about people across the world paying attention to what we do but the world is watching America. So remember to vote!
Senator Kathleen Vinehout can be reached at the State Capitol P.O. Box 7882, Madison, Wisconsin. 53707-7882 or 877-786-6636 (toll free). Or you can email Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov . The details of the story of women fighting for the right to vote have been recorded by the Library of Congress and can be found at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/collections/suffrage/nwp/history.pdf