Epilogue and Engagement Questions
The struggle for all women to gain the right to vote in the United States did not end in 1920. The Constitution had been amended. Voting was legal, but not all women felt free to vote. Some were held back by lingering patriarchal control. For many African American women, voter suppression in the form of Jim Crow laws, fraudulent tactics, and terroristic intimidation disenfranchised them until after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Native American women (and men) were legally barred from voting in many states until the 1940s or later. The last state to allow Native American voting was New Mexico, in 1962.
It took many decades for new attitudes to change the law, and it took additional decades for the new law to change attitudes and our country's unjust voting system.
Engagement questions for discussion
1) Discussing Suffrage 1848-1876. What is the difference between biography and autobiography? What are the pluses and minuses of each of these approaches to writing? Is one form potentially less biased than another? Is one form potentially more insightful?
2) 1851: Enfranchisement of Women. What other nations considered the question of women’s voting rights before the United States did? Where could women legally vote before August of 1920?
3) 1867: Equal Rights for Women. Words are important. They can be used to include, or to exclude, or to make certain people disappear, as if they don’t exist. How do your word choices convey to others that they matter to you? How might they convey the opposite feeling? Is the use of inclusive language just an intellectual exercise, or does it help re-shape us as individuals and as a society? Are there any hurtful words or phrases that you need to work on removing from your vocabulary?
- Does Linus P. Brockett’s quotation apply only to female voters, or could the same be said for male voters, as well? What can we do to prevent becoming “the dupes and prey of selfish and unprincipled politicians” today?
- Horace Bushnell predicted that giving women the right to vote would undermine family life as he knew and valued it. Is there only one correct way to be a family, or are there multiple positive models of family life? Is your understanding of family different from that of previous generations of your own family? Is it different from that of your neighbors?
5) 1880s: Ten Reasons Why Women Should Vote. What were Maria Goodell Frost’s points in favor of the enfranchisement of women? What reasons would you add to her list? Are there any reasons that you would subtract?
6) 1883: Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement. The word agitation is interesting. To be labelled an agitator is to be dismissed as an intentional trouble-maker. On the other hand, an agitator is also a useful device for stirring liquids, such as in a butter churn, ice cream maker, or washing machine. Some women in the suffrage movement who were labelled agitators adopted the term of derision and turned it into a positive self-image. They were proud to be stirring the waters of discontent in order to foster equal rights. How have you turned a negative label into a positive one? Does positive social change ever come without agitation?
7) 1885: Woman Suffrage Defended. In the preface to his book, Rev. Livermore suggests that if full enfranchisement of women is not yet possible, legislators should at least take steps in the right direction by allowing well-qualified women to vote as an experiment. The concept that he is voicing is incrementalism. What other social issues have been addressed incrementally? Do you think that incrementalism works, or does social change seem to require more jarring measures?
An interesting side note: Mary Ashton Rice Livermore founded a suffragist magazine called Agitator in 1869. (See question 6 above.)
8) 1887: Woman’s Suffrage: A Potent Agency in Public Reforms. Many early suffragists were also abolitionists. In the beginning of the women’s rights movement, African American and Euro-American women worked together amicably, but by the 1870s the movement divided by race. The separation was motivated by racism, with white suffrage leaders rejecting and even attacking black suffrage leaders and the African American community in general. The scars of that internal battle linger today. How might staying together have helped advance the cause of African American civil rights? How might staying together have helped or hindered the cause of women suffrage? How can we foster the healing of past societal wounds today?
9) 1911 - 1912: Woman Suffrage Arguments and Results. Frances Maule Bjorkman (1879 - 1966) began her article with these words:
"Women want to vote in order that they may feed their families properly. The preparation of food has always been woman’s business, but someway or other a large part of it has got away from her. …Accordingly, she has made up her mind to assume control once more. But the only way she can do this is through the enactment of laws. Laws are secured only through political influence and political influence is exercised only by means of the ballot. Therefore women want to vote." (page 1)
What motivates you to vote? Do you want to have a say in specific matters addressing basic human needs, like safe food and water? Or are you drawn to broader societal issues? Do you hold the ballot box in such high esteem as Bjorkman did?
10) 1917 - 1919: Reports of the... Kentucky Equal Rights Association. The KERA described democracy as being (or including) "the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own government." How do you see yourself as submitting to governmental authority? Do you feel that your voice is heard in the state house and in Washington, D.C.? How does voter suppression take place today? What can be done to end voter suppression?