We don’t know what women can do if we don’t know what they have already done . . . .
That appeal sounded familiar. It was just what we were trying to do in the women’s movement of our time (the “second wave”): We were trying to get the word out, asking for support, speaking and writing articles and raising money, so we could hold more meetings, write more articles and reach more women (and men!)
And while I had read a little in history books that women had to fight for the right to vote, this was the first time I realized how much their fight had been like ours: that in order for women to be treated like citizens, they had to wage a fight very much like today’s campaigns for personal rights and public office. I don’t know how much was raised at that long-ago Suffrage Bazaar. I know I paid $3.50 for the flyer –there was not much interest in suffrage material then– and I have been at it ever since.
As someone whose day job is in American politics, I marvel at the courage and strategic sense of the women who won the vote. Think about their challenge: They had to convince an all male electorate –state-by-state, legislature-by-legislature, and finally the Congress and the White House – to share political power. Not an easy goal at any time, then or now!
The suffrage pioneers were raised to believe that ladies did not speak in public – but they spoke on street corners and at county fairs. They went door to door in their own neighborhoods, faced the disapproval of fathers and husbands (and yes, mothers and sisters); climbed tenement steps, wearing more layers of clothing than you or I wear in a week; faced repeated disappointments - and just kept going.
Their work made our lives possible. What were the messages that worked to persuade male voters? And how did they figure them out without political consultants or opinion polls? How remarkable that women- legally excluded from the political system –figured it out, realizing the need to built coalitions and strategically target winnable referenda, until they won the majorities they needed.
The passage of the 19th amendment to the United States Constitution was the greatest expansion of democracy on any single day in America’s history. I hope in exploring this material, you will find examples of women’s courage in an illustrated, animated history; a demonstration of how that history was made; and a reminder never to take our rights as citizens for granted.
Ann F. Lewis
Ann F. Lewis was Senior Advisor to the 2008 Presidential Campaign of Hilary Rodham Clinton. She served as White House Communications Director for President Bill Clinton; as Vice President for Planned Parenthood Federation of America; as Political Director of the Democratic National Committee; and as Chief of Staff to then Congresswoman, now Senator Barbara Mikulski.
In 1998, President Clinton appointed Lewis to be the Co-Chair of the President’s Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History; and in 1999, she was appointed to be on the Women's Progress Commemoration Commission, established by Congress to report on historical sites that were instrumental in American women’s history.
Lewis has been a visiting lecturer at Brandeis University, and at the Annenberg School of the University of Pennsylvania. She was one of the founding members of the National Women’s Political Caucus.