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19th Amendment: Celebrating 100 years

The Marietta College Co-Ed Suffrage Club of 1915 had slogans such as ‘Give us the ballot or sew on your own buttons.’ (Photo Provided)

The 19th amendment was ratified 100 years ago this year and while things are now easier for women to vote, it wasn’t always that way.

Karen Pawloski, deputy director of the Washington County Board of Elections, said early voting has tremendously helped women vote.

“They can come in during their lunch break or before work for early voting,” she explained.

With early voting, mother don’t have to worry about bringing small children to the polls.

“Very few parents actually bring their children in anymore,” she said, adding she would go with her parents when they visited the pools.

“It was the old pull the curtain booth. My mother wouldn’t let me in, saying it was very secretive,” Pawloski said. “I couldn’t wait until I was an adult to see what went on in there.”

For black women, the 19th amendment didn’t guarantee anything.

“Let’s not reinterpret history, when suffragists gathered in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in July 1848, they advocated for the right of white women to vote,” said Monica Jones, associate dean of students and chief diversity officer at Marietta College. “There were no black women who attended the convention. So, as we celebrate white suffragists, including Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the scores of middle and upper-class white women who attended, we must acknowledge that black women were excluded.”

She said part of the difficulty with the history of Americans is the complex and nuanced ways in which gender and race intersect in the overall narrative.

“In the words of Professor Tammy Brown, ‘celebrate Women’s Suffrage, but don’t whitewash the movement’s racism’,” she said. “The intersection of racism and sexism compounds the marginalizations of black women in the United States and across the globe.”

Before the Seneca Falls convention, a group of black women in Philadelphia were organizing to attend a conference of the African American Episcopal Church to discuss women’s rights, including church women who wanted the license to preach, Jones said.

Voices of Black women in the Suffrage Movement included Sojourner Truth who spoke at a women’s convention in Akron, Ohio in May 1851.  Mary Church Terrell was a speaker at the National American Woman Suffrage Association convention in Washington, D.C. in 1898.  Mary Church Terrell is probably a name that many Americans-regardless of race-may not even recognize. 

For those of us who call Ohio home, Terrell was born to former slaves but she graduated from Oberlin College with a bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  But earlier names of Black women who are considered the foremothers of the Black women’s quest for voting include Jarena Lee and Maria Stewart.

 Although the 19th amendment was ratified in August of 1920 it did not eliminate the state laws that operated to keep Black Americans from the polls with poll taxes and literacy tests.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965 that aimed to overcome barriers at the state and local levels that prevented Blacks from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was the access point for Black women and their right to vote.

 And the battle for the expansion of voting rights continues to be a challenge in 2020 with voter suppression and disenfranchisement.  The policies determining voter-ID requirements and automatic voter purges impact persons of color at a higher rate.  The elimination of polling places in communities of color has had a negative impact of voter participation of communities of color. 

The obstacles and barriers to voter reinstatement for individuals who have served the criminal sentences is a challenge in many states.  The elimination of Section 4 of the Voting Right Act has resulted in many state passing strict new photo ID requirements.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com

David Lenington noted in the fall 1995 edition of the Tallow Light, the quarterly journal for the Washington County Historical Society, that “the struggle for rhe ballot took 72 years of determined campaigning.”

“Thousands of courageous women lectured, circulated pettiions, wrote letters, marched in parades, picked, and were even thrown into jail in their quest for women’s suffrage.”

Elizabeth Basin Myers became the first woman in Precinct B of the First Ward qualified to vote on Sept. 30, 1920. By 2 p.m. that day, 173 Marietta women had registered at the 22 regular polling places. By the end of the registration period on Oct. 17, 1920, more than 3,600 local women had registered to vote.

On the first day to vote, Myers and Sarah Squires registered. Myers was 73 and Squires was 72 and both were widows.

Lenington noted that by 1864, the Woman’s Rights Movement may have had little effect in Washington County. In December 1864, a woman’s rights activist came to speak, but the editor of the paper at the time called her a ‘brainless creature’, while her message was ‘femme de nonsense.’ He spoke derisively about the activist and the movement, although neither he nor his reporter attended her lecture.

“The audience was an unsympathizing one, and manifested disapprobation in various ways, doubtless thinking such dubious characters better qualified for pinning up three corners of a diaper than instructing them in the rights to which females are entitled,” the editor wrote.

On election day came in 1920, it was raining, but more Marietta women voted than men. It took another 60 years before Marietta would elect Nancy Putnam Hollister its first woman mayor. In November 1992, she was elected Ohio’s first woman lieutenant governor.

Polling places in 1920 included many places that may have been intimidating for women, including F.E. Stegner’s Machine Shop on Greene Street, the Elks building on Front Street, Morgan’s Tinshop on Fourth Street, James Shankland’s Garage on Sixth Street, Mill’s Barber Shop on Warren Street, Fritz’ Barber Shop at the corner of Third and Marion streets, and Lincicome’s Garage on Lancaster Street.

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