From Anne Hutchinson To Pussy Riot
The 2012 USA Women’s Olympic Teams broke records, kicked butt and made headlines. Shannon Eastin became the National Football League’s First Female Line Judge and refereed her first game in San Diego, and Tammy S. Smith became the Army’s first openly gay brigadier general. The All-Male Augusta National Gold Club finally let the gals in, inviting Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore. Diana Nyad made her fourth attempt swimming from Cuba to Florida and was forced to abandon her thirty-five year old dream, one day shy of her 63rd birthday. And Comedy Pioneer Phyllis Diller died.
And that was just in August.
Also in August, the ghost of Anne Hutchinson, 17th Century Puritan, mother of the First Amendment, religious freedom pioneer, hovered around PUSSY RIOT, a Russian punk rock band comprised of three women (two of them moms of young kids) who were convicted of premeditated hooliganism. They were sentenced to two years in prison for performing a punk prayer in a Russian church criticizing President Vladimir Putin. They are considered a danger to society and accused of religious hatred. Yup, they challenged authority, and the government in a sacred space – a church. Just like Anne Hutchinson, bible teacher, midwife and mother of fifteen who in the 1600s had the audacity to challenge the government and the religious leaders of her day by having “religious meetings” in her own home and sharing her opinions with other women – and even some men (making the meetings promiscuous – a sin), including Governor Vane – a fan. Oy. Such chutzpah. She had the outlandish idea that one could have salvation (a Puritan biggie) just by having faith. One could pray and feel god all by oneself. She called this The Covenant of Grace, which opposed the Covenant of Works, which the Church preached, requiring one to do service – work – to earn salvation. Oh and one had to obey the church and government to get salvation. Like the PUSSY RIOT gals, Anne Hutchinson also got two years – that’s how long her trial lasted. But she used the time to birth a baby (her fourteenth!) and stand up – literally – to the men who accused her. What really pissed them off was the fact that she was smarter than them. She knew that bible inside and out and had an answer for every one of their questions. So they convicted her of heresy and sedition and banished her to Rhode Island, a state founded on the premise of “separation of church and state” which Thomas Jefferson first wrote about in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists in reference to The First Fabulous Amendment. Thank you Ms. Hutchinson.
When I first heard the Pussy Riot report on Friday August 17th on KABC News Los Angeles, the punk rock band’s name could not be said on Network Television. It’s Ok to say pussycat and pussy foot and pussy willow but Pussy Riot – not OK. But that changed as the story grew and the band’s name could be uttered as well as printed. Ahhh progress. Yes we live in such a progressive world that in 2012, a Congressman (Missouri Republican Todd Akin) can say on national television, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” The saddest part is that he believed that.
What a world.
August 26th is Women’s Equality Day. The day we honor and celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment – The Susan B. Anthony Amendment. In 1971, New York Congresswoman, activist, lawyer, mensch and mom Bella Abzug, first introduced legislation to designate August 26th Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, Women’s Suffrage giving women in this country the right to vote. Well, as the National Women’s History Project (http://www.nwhp.org ) wrote in their August 2012 Newsletter, no one “gave” the gals the right to vote. It was a long hard battle.
Those galvanizing gals Susan B. Anthony and her partner Elizabeth Cady Stanton first introduced the Amendment way back in 1878. They were long gone when the House passed it on May 21, 1919, the Senate on June 4, 1919. It took thirty-six states to ratify an amendment and make it a law. Harry Burns was a first time twenty-four year old Tennessee Member of The House of Representatives. His mom sent him a now famous telegram: “Hurrah! And vote for suffrage…”
He did, making history and Tennessee the 36th state to ratify The Amendment. Thanks mom!
The first woman to ask to vote – that we know of and can document – was Margaret Brent way way back in 1648. One of thirteen children, Margaret Brent was born in England and came from a family that was rich, Catholic, of noble descent and distant cousins with England’s George Calvert – AKA Lord Baltimore, the “proprietor” of Maryland. Yes he OWNED Maryland. His brother, Leonard Calvert, was the Governor of Maryland, which was touted as a land of opportunity. The colony needed settlers and Lord Baltimore enticed them by offering them land. Now what set Margaret apart was, first of all she was thirty-seven and not married. Second, she – and her sister became property owners – Lord Baltimore gave them land grants – seventy acres. If one owned property and paid taxes, one could vote, if one were a man. Now if Margaret were to marry, the land would belong to her husband. Margaret never married. She “acquired” even more land and well, it turns out Margaret is a terrific businesswoman, and, she was pretty darned good with real estate. SO good that the Governor – on his deathbed – gave her power of attorney and made her executor of his will and estate. So now she owns – and pays taxes as the owner and executor of two properties and logically she wants a vote. Two votes. So she goes down to the courthouse and asks – actually demands the right to vote. They turned her down, of course. But she made history.
Jan. 21, 1647[/8]. “Came Mrs Margaret Brent and requested to have vote in the howse for herselfe and voyce also for that att the last Court 3d Jan: it was ordered that the said Mrs Brent was to be lookd uppon and received as his Lps Attorney. The Govr denyed that the sd Mrs Brent should have any vote in the howse And the sd Mrs Brent protested agst all proceedings in this pnt Assembly unlesse shee may have vote as aforesd.”
The first woman on record who actually voted was Lydia Taft, a Massachusetts mom married to Josiah. They were a very prominent, wealthy family. Only freeholders – white male property – were allowed to vote but when Josiah suddenly died, the townspeople decided to let Lydia cast a vote in a big important meeting in 1756 appropriating funds for the French and Indian War. So she made history. And in 2004, she got a highway named after her.
Then of course in 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, super cool Quaker Lucretia Mott and few other fabulous females had a little tea party, which led to the very first Women’s Conference in Seneca Falls, New York. A sign was posted in the local paper; “Women’s Right’s Convention – A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman will be held….in the Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls. The gals drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on The Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers list of eighteen grievances against King George. The gals just substituted MEN for KING GEORGE. “All men AND WOMEN are created equal”. Elizabeth Cady Stanton took the controversial and individual decision to go on record asking to be enfranchised, for suffrage – to vote. “Lizzie” as her mentor, and buddy Lucretia Mott affectionately called her, stood alone on that one. “Why Lizzie”, said Ms. Mott, “thy will make us look ridiculous!” But Lizzie would not back down and managed to get Frederick Douglass – the most famous abolitionist – to back her up. Resolved: That it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise. She got it in there but they did not get the vote until 72 years later.
From Left To Right:
Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Every year since 1878, the gals pushed for the Amendment. Then in 1913, a little lady named Alice Paul came along. She was a brilliant, ballsy, Ivy League educated – she had more degrees than a thermometer – militant, hunger-striking, suffragist who really pissed of President Wilson when she stole his parade. And she stole his parade – or at least his thunder. Yup. The day before his inauguration March 1913, The President-Elect arrived at Union Station in Washington DC expecting a welcoming crowd, or two…. “Where are the people?” he asked. Well, thanks to Alice Paul’s brilliant orchestration, the crowds were, he was told, “On the Avenue watching the suffragists parade”. The suffragists wanted the vote.
It was the largest parade ever in Washington.
Imagine what she could do with Facebook.
Alice Paul was a Jersey girl who knew that Knowledge IS Power. She presented herself as a lovely, quite feminine soft-spoken lady – but there was nothing ladylike in her demands. She got her first degree – a BA – from Swarthmore College which opened in Pennsylvania in 1854 – one of the first co-ed colleges in the country, founded by a bunch of super cool Quakers including her grandfather AND – LUCRETIA MOTT! Alice proceeded to get a Masters, A PHD, an LLB (bachelor of Law) and LLM (Master Of Law degree) and finally a Doctor of Civil Law degree in 1928. She studied in England as well and while there, wanting to “experience the daily life of an industrial worker”, she worked for a rubber factory so she really knew what she was talking about when she advocated for workers rights. She made tires for automobiles and worked from 6AM to 6PM. “If a girl was a good worker, she could make a little under five dollars a week”, she wrote her mother in 1908. While in England, Alice Paul also was mentored by The Pankhursts. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters were militant English Suffragettes. Remember Mrs. Banks in Mary Poppins… picketing with the suffragettes? Remember the song where they were singing?
“Political equality and equal rights with men. Take heart for Missus Pankhurst has been clapped with irons again”.
The Pankhursts were very militant and smashed windows and used hunger strikes to get attention, which worked well in England but not so much in America where Alice Paul tried hunger striking. She and a bunch of gals were arrested for LEGALLY and PEACEFULLY protesting – picketing in front of The White House…
for the right to vote. We were at war then (WWI) and the gals’ protest was seen as un-patriotic – and of course Wilson was still pissed off about the Parade. Now Alice Paul and her gal pals had been trying for years and years to get President Wilson to address the issue of suffrage. She was polite at first but grew weary and frustrated and like Glen Close in Fatal Attraction, she would not be ignored. It galled her and her gal pals that the President was so willing, as she put it – and she put it on banners everywhere – to go to war to fight for liberty – but not for the women! “How long Mr. President must women wait for liberty?” The gals were arrested, charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic” and literally, physically THROWN in jail – the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. It was November 15th 1917, The Night of Terror. There is a wonderful movie called Iron jawed Angels starring Hilary Swank as Alice Paul, which tells this story. They were served food with worms, dirty water – and worse. Many of the women were viciously brutalized, including Alice Paul’s pal Lucy Burns who was beaten, chained and left hanging all night. What a disgraceful chapter in our history.
Alice Paul went on a hunger strike. For three weeks, three times a day, they stuck tubes down her throat – and force-fed her raw eggs. Then the government hired a shrink to say she was insane – ‘cause that’s what we did with our women back then when they got out of hand. We just threw ‘em in the psych ward. But this shrink – he said, “No this woman is NOT insane.”
“Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity”.
Lots of courageous women went to jail. And what a cool shrink! But the Night Of Terror backfired on Wilson when word got out about how brutally the women were treated. How they had applied for political prisoner status and were denied. Throwing old ladies against the wall and beating them with their broken banners is NOT good publicity. There was a hearing and a lot of press, which helped the movement. The torch was passed and The Nineteenth Amendment (Susan B. Anthony Amendment) was FINALLY passed
In 1923 Alice Paul wrote The Equal Rights Amendment – which was originally called The Lucretia Mott Amendment. It was passed in 1972 and ratified by thirty-five states. Ratification then required thirty-eight states.
Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.
We have come a long way since The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention. There have been many many women’s conventions since, including the 1977 First National Women’s conference in Houston. Thanks to Bella Abzug, for the first – and only time – the Federal Government funded the Conference. A torch was carried from Seneca Falls to Houston Texas and presented to Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford and Rosalyn Carter who said: “it was…the most important and exciting conference I have ever attended”.
My oldest daughter is nineteen and this year she will vote in November. I get choked up just thinking about it. She knows how important it is. I hope and pray that she and her younger sister appreciate the power of their vote. It has never been more important to honor Women’s Equality Day 2012.
Click below for a fabulous take on Women’s Equality Day: Soomo Publishing’s video “Bad Romance: Women’s Suffrage”