I heard a statistic over the weekend: just short of 60 percent of registered voters will vote in this year’s hotly contended elections. That statistic, 60 percent, would be considered an overwhelmingly successful election. But consider this back-story: the 60 percent is about half of those eligible to vote. That right — there are adults in this country that don’t even register to vote! Mindboggling, isn’t it?
As inconvenient as getting to polls might be for some (really, couldn’t we have a 2-day weekend voting period like some European countries?), I will be standing in line this afternoon after hassling for a parking spot at my local polling place. It is my obligation and my duty to do so. Why?
Women, of course, were not permitted to vote until the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. I think of this most every Election Day when I waltz in, state my address, and get my own ballot with no problem whatsoever. I marvel at the strength of women of the early 20th century who organized and demanded their rights to vote, their rights to be treated more like human beings than property. I think of my great grandmother, Minnie Palmer Flournoy, whose strength and courage to march with suffragettes makes voting all the more meaningful for me.
Minnie Palmer Flournoy was left a widow with 2 children – a toddler and a baby – after a train accident killed her husband in the early 1890s. The grief of losing your husband in a place far from your family (at the time, she lived in Albany, NY far from her Missouri relatives) was compounded by the cavalier way the railroad and its lawyers sent her off without any compensation for this tragedy: I have a handwritten response from the railroad’s attorney offering no culpability on the railroad’s part, but a token “gift” of $500. Minnie eventually moved back to Missouri with her parents and worked throughout her life at jobs women were allowed to do: seamstress and rooming house keeper. From family stories she was by all accounts a strong, smart woman; a woman who raised two successful children on her own. When women began to demand rights to vote, I imagine she was on board fairly quickly.
The movement to gain the vote for women began with a speech by Susan B. Anthony in 1873 and ended with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. The years and effort of my forebears to obtain this right does not go unappreciated or unnoticed by me.
Today, I’ll make my way to my local polling place and proudly remember those women who endured mocking, were castigated and rebuked for standing up for their convictions. And I will vote.