Story by Lisa Rice
The Seward/Mapes Homestead Restoration Committee welcomed educator, author, and historian, Carolyn Ivanoff, to give a presentation celebrating Women’s History Month at the Florida Senior Center on Thurs., Mar. 14. The topic of the presentation was the 72-year struggle and sacrifice leading to women’s suffrage and the ratification of the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. Proceeds from the presentation will be used for the Seward/Mapes Homestead renovation.
Prior to the Ivanoff’s presentation, guests were able to view a table display organized by the Committee depicting “Remarkable Women,” including Frances “Fanny” Seward (she hid runaway slaves in her basement), Emma Willard (she founded the first women’s higher education institution in the U.S.), Harriet Tubman (Underground Railroad), Dorothea Dix (fought for humane treatment of mental illness), and Clara Barton (the founder of the American Red Cross).
It was Ivanoff’s third presentation in Florida, having previously discussed Civil War Medicine and the Ghosts of Gettysburg.
Equal Rights Struggle Not Ancient History
Before taking the audience back to the beginning of the story, Ivanoff, dressed in period-appropriate attire, discussed more recent history, acknowledging that she remembers when Ivy League schools did not admit female students and when women couldn’t get their own credit. It was only when the Senate passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act in 1974 that women could get credit cards, mortgages and bank loans without the signature of a husband, brother or father, regardless of their income or equity.
The efforts to gain the right to vote officially began at the Seneca Falls Convention in Upstate New York in 1848.
“It took a lot of gumption to go out and speak in public,” Ivanoff said. “Women couldn’t speak in what was considered a promiscuous audience [one that had men in it]. They wouldn’t have been able to speak here in this audience. Women who did so were heckled. They had to think on their feet and be committed.”
Stanton & Anthony – A Dynamic Duo
Ivanoff highlighted two women who were instrumental in the movement and worked together as partners: Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony.
Stanton was the mother of seven children and was married to an abolitionist. Ivanoff described her as an intellectual of dynamic proportions who strongly believed that men and women were created equal.
She was introduced to Susan B. Anthony at the Seneca Falls Convention by Amelia Bloomer, an activist for clothing reform which was considered dangerous and restrictive – the second cause of death in women at the time was in fires due to their clothing. The first was childbirth.
Where Stanton was the brains of this “dynamic duo,” it was Anthony who did the legwork. Stanton’s husband travelled a lot and left his wife as sole caregiver to the children, which left her little time to devote to the movement. Anthony deliberately did not marry in order to devote her time to furthering the cause.
Becoming the face of the Women’s Suffrage movement made Anthony the target of those who were against women’s rights. She was often depicted in political cartoons as unattractive and plain, calling her an old maid and referring to her as cantankerous and cross-eyed. According to Ivanoff, in her youth Anthony had many suitors and many opportunities to marry, “but she didn’t want her freedom truncated.”
Anthony needed Stanton’s finesse with words and intelligent prose for her speeches. Carrying her trademark alligator purse, she would walk up to the Stanton home and proceed to cook, clean and care for the children while Stanton wrote the speeches and pamphlets in support of the movement.
Married Women Not Legally Recognized
In the 19th century, Ivanoff explained, women were second class citizens. They were considered “owned” by their husbands. Due to the common law practice of coverture, the property she owned transferred to her husband when she married. Children she bore were his and money she earned was his money. Women were not legally recognized in the United States. People who wanted to keep it that way, often said it was to “protect” women from taxation and responsibility.
The most famous author of the time, Harriet Beecher Stowe, who her son recalled Abraham Lincoln calling “the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war,” couldn’t sign her own book contract. All the money earned from Uncle Tom’s Cabin went to her husband. According to Ivanoff, her husband wouldn’t sign a contract for a follow-up novel because he was afraid of her success. She was not allowed to give speeches about her book. She would attend speaking engagements and sit in a chair while her brother or husband read her remarks.
End of Civil War Creates Racial Divide
Many women suffragettes were also abolitionists and suspended their agitation during the Civil War in support of abolishing slavery. They became patriots, supporting the northern troops and serving as nurses. They believed that their efforts to secure freedom and civil rights for slaves would help their own cause.
At the end of the war, several constitutional amendments were established: the 13th freed the slaves, the 14th awarded citizenship to the slaves, and the 15th gave the right to vote to black men. President Lincoln declared that the “hour belongs to the black man.”
The women felt betrayed and it caused a rift and bred quite a bit of racism. The women who had fought for decades for the right to vote saw “enfranchised, uneducated, ignorant immigrant men” given that right before intellectual educated women.
Susan B. Anthony was furious and decided to take matters into her own hands. She registered and voted in the 1872 presidential election.
“She pulled a straight Republican ticket and got arrested,” said Ivanoff. “She refused to pay bail, wanting her day in court. Of course, it was a big scandal. Eventually, her lawyer posted her bail against her wishes.”
Suffrage Movement Strengthens in the 1900s
After the turn of the century, women were no closer to getting the right to vote. Cartoonists would depict men holding babies and female police officers as fear tactics. There were also many women who believed that it was ungodly for women to want the right to vote. Being a suffragette was frowned upon.
Ivanoff referred to the Disney movie Mary Poppins set in 1910 and the depiction of Mrs. Banks as an unmotherly, neglectful, self-centered suffragette who needed a nanny to save her family. Even men who supported women’s rights were criticized and often depicted as unmasculine.
Yet, the Suffrage movement grew stronger. There was some political support as well. In the 1912 Presidential election, two of the four candidates accepted suffrage: Theodore Roosevelt of the Bull Moose (Progressive) party and Eugene Debs of the Socialist party. Woodrow Wilson won the election, but according to Ivanoff, was not interested in suffrage. The movement was shaking up society.
Mother’s Words End 72-Year Struggle
The 19th amendment guaranteeing a woman’s right to vote was introduced to Congress in 1878. Several states adopted their own suffrage acts and while the right to vote was not federal law, in some states women could vote. The first state to give women the right to vote in all elections was Wyoming in 1869. It took more than 20 years for Congress to pass the amendment on June 4, 1919.
“It almost didn’t happen,” said Ivanoff. “They needed 36 states to ratify and only 13 to squash it. In August 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment and it came down to one vote.”
Ivanoff told the story of Harry Burn, the 24-year-old youngest member of the Tennessee legislature. He had planned to vote against suffrage and wore a red flower depicting his opposition. However, carrying a letter his mother wrote to him in support of women’s rights, at the last moment with the vote split at 48-48, he voted in favor and ended the 72-year struggle.
Never Neglect the Right to Vote
“It was the most remarkable social movement in American history,” said Ivanoff. “No loss of life. Not one shot fired. A 72-year fight without violence, war or rebellion. It was a true revolution.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton died in 1902. Susan B. Anthony died in 1906. Amelia Bloomer died in 1894. Many of the women who were instrumental in women’s suffrage didn’t live to see the amendment ratified.
“It was never about them,” said Ivanoff. “It was about their daughters and granddaughters. I hope you never, ever neglect to vote.”