Ann Lewis

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Ann Lewis

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We don’t know what women can do if we don’t know what they have already done . . . .

I was walking through a flea market at Faneuil Hall, Boston, in the mid-seventies, when the headline on a piece of old newsprint caught my attention: “Woman Suffrage Bazar.” Julia Ward Howe and Mary A. Livermore signed it, among others, with a request for contributions of handmade articles, books and food, to help pay the costs of “ lecturers…tracts, pamphlets and petitions.”

Sound familiar? That is just what we were doing in the women’s movement: 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!)

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 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. 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!

The suffragists 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, working to persuade male voters, building ever larger coalitions and strategically targeting 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

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