Editor’s Note: The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote. To celebrate this historic centennial, Kathy Jo Schweitzer, a retired teacher and photographer from Port Clinton High School, wrote this series of short stories about the 19th Amendment from a woman’s perspective, marking a milestone of democracy and exploring its relevance to the issues of equal rights today.
BY KATHY JO SCHWEITZER
December 5, 1948, Baltimore, Ohio — I was born and brought home from the hospital with my mom by my paternal grandfather, but my dad was not there. He left for good that day.
Along with my year-older brother, I grew up in a small town, where we both never realized nor talked about the fact that there were no men living with us.
Our caregivers were Mom, who worked at the dime store six days a week for 50 years and was my aunt’s caregiver. Aunt GG became paralyzed, bedridden and lived with us for over 30 years. Aunt Donna drove us in her sports car to new and exciting places we had never seen before. And our two Grammas, who cooked and cleaned 24 hours a day.
These were our role models.
Each of these five women molded my life in different ways, allowing me to learn important skills, participate in a variety of experiences, and to be proud of the woman I’ve become. I never got discouraged from trying new things, simply because I was a girl; I was unaware of any limits!
They were definitely strong, confident, hardworking, financially-independent people, always putting the needs of my brother and me first. Now, at a much older age, I am quite aware of who I am, because of these five women. However, I felt a need to learn the history behind how these qualities could be passed on to me as a young girl, especially to understand my own values of organization, confidence, determination, dedication, and worthiness.
How did this happen?
October 3, 2019, Seneca Falls, New York —That opportunity arose, during a lighthouse-hunting adventure with my fiance, when taking a side-trip into Seneca Falls to explore the Women’s Rights National Historical Park. Here we entered a time in America when women had virtually no rights. Society prohibited them from doing many things including employment, other than being a teacher or seamstress, owning property, and even deciding the clothes they wore.
Most colleges refused to admit women, expecting them to become housewives, isolating them in their 19th century households. Located here was the Women’s Rights Visitors’ Center, crammed with descriptive, pictorial displays representing each step of the women’s movement.
In addition, we toured the facility asking questions and listening to narratives introducing us to those women famous for launching the reform movement for women’s rights. But, continuing on next door into the Wesleyan Chapel was quite different.
As this story was being told, many of us visitors sat in the church pews as they did 172 years ago. History took place here — the exact location where active measures were taken to remedy the wrongs of women at the first Women’s Rights Convention in the United States.
Who made this happen?
July 19-20, 1848, Seneca Falls, New York, 100 years before I was born — Previously, at the World Anti-Slavery Convention with her husband, Elizabeth Cady Stanton discovered that elected women delegates were refused admission because of their sex. After a prolonged debate, the men decided that the women would sit at the rear of the hall, but not participate. In this women’s section, Elizabeth met Lucretia Mott, a Quaker reformer, who shared her indignation at this unfair treatment of women. Soon becoming friends, Mott and Stanton vowed to hold a convention to discuss injustices against women.
Garnering the support of Mary Ann M’Clintock, Martha Wright and Jane Hunt, Mott and Stanton decided to publicly call a convention, where over 300 men and women participated. The guiding theme was presented in their Declaration of Sentiments, which began: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men AND WOMEN are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of the governed”.
To prove this, 16 facts were submitted. The document went on to demand equal rights for women in property and custody laws, educational opportunities, and participation in the church, professions and politics. It claimed on behalf of American women “all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens.” The document was signed by 68 women and 32 men.
It wasn’t until 50 years after this historic convention, when women finally saw progress in property rights, employment, education, divorce and custody laws, and social freedoms. By the early 1900’s, a coalition of suffragists, temperance groups, progressive politicians, and social welfare organizations mustered a successful push for the vote.
Then as now, each woman sought her own definition of freedom. Finally, in 1920 after 72 years, the 19th Amendment, also titled the Susan B. Anthony Amendment, was ratified, extending women’s voting rights throughout the United States.. Susan B. Anthony had taken the speeches and writings produced by Stanton and traveled the countryside campaigning her entire life for women’s rights.
What’s happening now?
July 19-20, 2020, Port Clinton, Ohio, 100 years after passage of the 19th Amendment — The story of the women’s rights movement is the story of ideas once controversial, now commonplace. Despite the active leadership of five women and their male and female supporters, many people still do not know who these women were.
Plus, there were many major events leading up to and after this historical change in the status quo for American women. Major changes are taking place today that are causing women and men to stand up for their rights, with choices to be made as to to how that can be accomplished.
As did five organized, determined, and dedicated women in 1848, who spent their lifetime fighting for women’s freedoms, it was five organized, determined and dedicated women in my own life, who allowed me the freedom to be who I am today.
For that, I am grateful.
Like all written history, it is the author’s perceptions of what actually happened. No two people could ever write the same version exactly the same way. Historical information was taken from various pamphlets and fliers published by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior and Women’s Rights National Historical Park.
This is only an overview of this long history, and not intended to encompass the lifetime of women’s struggles for equal rights. It is my opinion the history of this movement, especially the Declaration of Sentiments, should be read by every woman and man, for it was not accomplished alone.
Anything worthwhile takes cooperation, organization and a great deal of patience.