I am very excited about a recent family development. My eldest granddaughter, Maika, has just registered to vote in her first presidential election. I remember the first presidential election I voted in, in 1956 – my candidate didn’t win, but that didn’t discourage me from future voting – and I haven’t missed an election yet.
My mother was a witness to history. In 1920, the first year that women in the United States were allowed to vote, she was 20 years old and too young to cast a ballot, but she still told me that she celebrated that day. She knew how much other women had worked and dared and had suffered for that right for more than 70 years.
On November 15, 1917, which became known as the “Night of Terror, the warden at the Occoquan workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they had dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. Forty prison guards went on a rampage, using their clubs to beat the 33 women wrongly convicted of obstructing sidewalk traffic. (All the convictions were eventually overturned.) Lucy Burns was chained by her hands to the cell bars above her head, left hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. Dora Lewis was knocked unconscious. When Alice Cosu, her cellmate, thought Dora was dead, she suffered a heart attack.
Their food was full of worms, which often floated to the surface of the thin soup they were given; their only water came from an open pail. The open toilets could be flushed only by a guard, who decided when to flush. When Alice Paul embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat, and poured liquids into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this three times a day for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press, and newspapers around the country reported what was happening. All the suffragists were released on November 27 and 28, 1917. Alice served five weeks.
Two grannies, a friend and a cousin, sent me an email with photos of these women. I appreciated the reminder. This story and more are told on the Women in History website, http://www.lkwdpl.org/wihohio/index.html, and in the HBO movie, now out on DVD, “Iron Jawed Angels.” I haven’t seen it yet, but I plan to. After learning all of this, can any of us, and our daughters and granddaughters, fail to exercise our hard-won right to vote??? And to vote responsibly -- not because a candidate is good-looking or a woman or can tell a good story -- but because we honestly believe that this person will govern responsibly and well on the vitally important issues of the day.