My daughter turned 18 last November and is enthusiastically planning to vote for the first time in this year’s elections. She found it scarcely credible when I told her that my own grandmothers were not allowed to vote when they were her age.
Too many Americans – young and old – blithely take for granted many of the rights and freedoms they enjoy that would have been denied to them a relatively short time ago . . . actually within still living memory. Women’s voting rights are a good example. In Devil’s Den, I use my character Peggy Stewart to illustrate the Suffragist Movement’s struggle in the United States.
Although the 19th Amendment granting Federal Suffrage for women was passed by the US House in 1918 (by a two-vote margin), it was defeated by the Senate the following year, and only ratified by the requisite three-quarters of the states in August 1920. The arguments by prominent men against women’s right to vote were breathtakingly illogical. As the villainous Senator Quesenberry says in Devil’s Den: “Women average about five ounces less brain matter than men. If the world had to depend on the inventive or reasoning faculty of women, we would all still be living in caves. Who can predict what catastrophes may result if women are given the vote?”
The day before President Wilson’s inauguration in 1913, thousands of suffragists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue. Very few of the women had experienced, or even thought possible, the wave of hatred directed at them by the crowds lining the street. Hostile men swore at the marchers, hurled lighted cigar butts, spat at the women, slapped them, mobbed them, beat them. Over two hundred marchers were injured while the police either did nothing or jeered at the women. The violence continued until soldiers were ordered to intervene. The harassment was so shocking that a special session of Congress was called to conduct hearings on the behavior of the District of Columbia police that day, with the result that the Chief of Police was dismissed.
When my daughter enters the voting booth for this first time this November, I hope she’ll pause a moment to thank her courageous predecessors who suffered to give her a right that they believed was sacred.