“Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” – Plato
Today’s woman may cringe when they think it took 51 years from the first Suffragette Convention in Cleveland in 1869 until women got the vote in 1920. Then it took another 100 years before women’s votes helped elect a female vice president—U.S. Senator and former California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris.
President Woodrow Wilson spoke to Congress on September 30, 1918: “We have made partners of women in the war. . . Shall we admit them to a partnership of suffering, sacrifice, and toil and not to a partnership of privilege, and right?” Eventually Congress voted affirmative.
Since then, women’s progress has moved at a snail’s pace. Some women believed they had achieved status hitched to their spouses. Others were brainwashed. In the 1970s, sociologist David Riesman surveyed women under 45, who had been or were currently married, and found that 80 percent believed “it is much better for everyone involved if the man is the achiever outside the home and the woman takes care of the home and family.” (Reisman, “Two Generations,” in The Woman in America.) Then the average salary for a female teacher was $4,680, while a man straight out of college could make $5,400.
The fact that there were housewives working to support their families did not register with the male politicians, business executives, editors, and scriptwriters who set the tone for public discussion. They were better paid, their wives worked at home, and “of course, it was better to have women at home.”
My first year at the newspaper in 1972, I did better than the teachers at $8,500/annually. I worked some 16-hour days but felt happy to have a job at a newspaper. That same year women protested women going into the workplace, fearing they were taking a job that belonged to a man. I did not see those women in Fort Wayne, but I am quite sure they were lurking. I was the only woman reporter in the newsroom.
“Progress always involves risk. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”
- Frederick Douglass
Maybe it is no surprise that the Equal Rights Amendment was first proposed in 1923, written to end legal distinctions between men and women in divorce, property, and employment. This was how the 1972 legislation read in its entirety:
“Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or any state on account of sex.” – Equal Rights Amendment
When the ERA passed Congress in 1972, it glided through the House 354-24, but 51 Members did not vote. The Senate tally was 84-8. Thirty of the required 38 states ratified it in the first year, but then the pace slowed considerably. Phyllis Schlafly founded the Eagle Forum, a ‘pro-family” socially conservative organization, organized specifically to defeat passage of the ERA. Schlafly’s STOP ERA stood for “Stop Taking Our Privileges,” which might now be seen as White Privilege, but she linked the ERA to every liberal cause the Forum stood against.
Result: the ERA was not ratified I 1979, although the deadline was extended to 1982. But after Schlafly died in 2016 at 92, the Illinois Legislature, which was her home base, ratified it as the 37th state in 2018.
Albert Einstein might have had a saying for that: “Failure is success in progress.”
Women have marched forward without the ERA.
Example: Vice President Harris’s mother, Shyamala Gopalan, immigrated to California from India to complete a PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where she met Kamala’s father, Donald Harris. He had come from Jamaica to Berkeley to study for a PhD in economics. While achieving doctorates, they took time from their studies to participate in the civil rights campaign and married in 1963. They encouraged their daughters to aim high, but they divorced in the 1970s.
Dr. Gopalan became well known as a biomedical scientist completing successful breast cancer research. Her daughters went with her to Canada to continue her research at McGill University in Montreal. Kamala Harris returned to California after she completed high school. Her mother died of colon cancer in 2009 but had built strong shoulders for her daughters to stand.
Abraham Lincoln, speaking 160-years before her inauguration in his 1864 State of the Union, addressed the future role of immigrants like Dr. Shyamala Gopalan and Donald Harris:
“Immigrants are the principal replenishing streams which are appointed by Providence to repair the ravages of internal war and its wastes of national strength and health.” – Abraham Lincoln
Since her swearing in, Vice President Harris has repeated her mother’s words: “You may be the first to do many things—don’t be the last.” A mantra for women to repeat until we have pulled up the next generation to lead.
One thought on “100 Years: Standing on the Shoulders of Suffregettes”
Wonderful, historic and encouraging words, Marmie!