Editor’s note: The South County Chapter of the League of Women Voters will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States this year in a series of monthly columns in The Sun. The amendment, which gave women the right to vote, became law on Aug. 26, 1920.
Did you know that 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women in the U.S. winning the right to vote?
In 1920, after years of lobbying, marching and protesting, the suffragists pre-vailed when the Tennessee legislature voted to give women the vote, thereby becoming the final state required to make the 19th Amendment law.
The deciding vote in the Tennessee house was cast by a Representative Frank Burns. The backstory is that he voted “yes,” despite his inclination to vote “no,” because his mother wrote him a letter telling him to be “a good boy” and to support the women. He had this letter in his pocket when he voted.
Today, in 2020, women have the right to vote. In fact, all citizens have the right to vote. But if you don’t vote, you don’t count.
Are these issues important to you?
Paid family leave
Equal pay for equal work
Responsive town officials
You might be interested to learn that these issues were important to the women who gathered at Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848 for the first Women’s Rights Convention. Their lofty goal as expressed in the Declaration of Sentiments was to redefine the status of women in society by granting women property rights, access to education and employment, and most importantly, winning the right to vote.
The Seneca Falls meeting was a forerunner of the League of Women Voters, which was formed in February 1920. The first president was Carrie Chapman Catt, who declared the League would be a “living memorial” to the suffragists who won the right for women to vote.
Today, the League of Women Voters promotes voter participation and education with voter-registration drives, information about voting (VOTE411.org), candidate forums, and programs about issues.
The League is nonpartisan; it does not support individuals or political parties. It does support issues that members research and agree to support.
Every two years, the South County chapter of the LWVRI hosts candidate forums for town councils, school committees, and state legislators that are open to the public and broadcast live on the local access television stations. All candidates are invited and are asked to respond to carefully crafted questions about issues of interest to residents of South County. These forums are part of the League’s Voters Service Program to encourage an informed voting public.
In this first in the series of articles by the League of Women Voters South County, we ask your help in filling in some gaps in local history of the suffragist movement.
Westerly citizens were involved in the suffrage movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s. One year after the formation of the Rhode Island Women’s Suffrage Association on June 24, 1869, Westerly’s original Armory Hall on Main Street was the site of a Women’s Suffrage Convention with Paulina Wright Davis, president of RIWSA, presiding.
Perhaps some of our readers have heard stories and have photographs from grandparents and great-grandparents about their participation in this convention or in the movement. Please let us know if you have any stories.
Perhaps you are a descendant of early suffragists — female and male? Anyone related to Representative James W. Stillman, who as a young, first-term legislator from Westerly argued forcefully in the Rhode Island legislature for an amendment to the Rhode Island Constitution allowing women to vote? Do you know anyone who is a descendant of Elizabeth Buffum Chace, one of the most influential suffragists in Rhode Island whose statue graces the Rhode Island Capitol?
As the LWV South County Chapter prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of women winning the right to vote, we would like to feature such stories about Westerly citizens who participated in the fight for women’s suffrage.
Look for our column, and feel free to contact us at lwvscri.org. Let us know what issues are important to you.
Nina Rossomando is president of the League of Women Voters South County. Follow them on Facebook at League of Women Voters - South County.