Happy International Women’s Day!

Today, March 8, is celebrated as International Women’s Day across the world. As with many other holidays, it has evolved over time in its meaning and means of celebration. Initially, the day had a political purpose promoting the rights of women, particularly working women, demanding suffrage, and celebrating accomplishments. This is still true in many countries, although in some places the focus is simply an occasion to express love and appreciation of the women in our lives.

Maasai women rally for International Women's Day in Tanzania in 2013, by Thomson Safaris (source)

Maasai women rally for International Women’s Day in Tanzania in 2013, by Thomson Safaris (source)

The earliest observance was in the United States on 28 February 1909 in remembrance of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union strike of 1908. The next year, at a women’s conference in Denmark, a proposal for an International Woman’s Day was put forth and agreed upon. Although no official date was decided at the time, on 19 March 1911 over a million people demonstrated across Europe promoting equal rights and suffrage for women.

The date for International Women’s Day wasn’t uniformly fixed as March 8 until 1914. That year in Germany, the marches were focused on women’s suffrage, which they finally won in 1918. This poster urges women to join the fight. It’s English translation is as follows: “Give Us Women’s Suffrage. Women’s Day, March 8, 1914. Until now, prejudice and reactionary attitudes have denied full civic rights to women, who as workers, mothers, and citizens wholly fulfill their duty, who must pay their taxes to the state as well as the municipality. Fighting for this natural human right must be the firm, unwavering intention of every woman, every female worker. In this, no pause for rest, no respite is allowed. Come all, you women and girls, to the 9th public women’s assembly on Sunday, March 8, 1914, at 3pm.”

International Women's Day poster from Germany 8 March 1914 (source)

International Women’s Day poster from Germany 8 March 1914 (source)

In 1917, International Women’ Day demonstrations were particularly effective in Russia. Held on the last Sunday in February (March 8 on the Gregorian calendar) women marched in St. Petersburg calling for an end to food shortages, czarism, and World War I. The slogan was “Bread and Peace” and touched off the February Revolution. Although it lasted less than a week, it resulted in the abdication of Czar Nicholas II and paved the way for the October Revolution later in the year.

In many countries, particularly in the east, the day is an official holiday including time off from work. In others women receive flowers and gifts similar to Mother’s Day. In 1975, the United Nations began sponsoring the day, and since 1996, they have proposed a theme for each year. This year, 2015, the UN theme is “Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity. Picture it!”, highlighting the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of 1995.

Afghan girls sing at a celebration of International Women's Day in 2002 (source)

Afghan girls sing at a celebration of International Women’s Day in 2002 (source)

The overall theme for 2015 for International Women’s Day is “Make it Happen” – for greater awareness of women’s equality, for more women in senior leadership roles, for fairer recognition of women in sport, for equal recognition of women in the arts, for growth of women owned businesses, for increased financial independence of women, and for more women in science, engineering, and technology. You can follow on twitter @womensday and use the hashtag #MakeItHappen to join in the discussion.

Commemorating International Women's Day in Cameroon, 2006

Commemorating International Women’s Day in Cameroon, 2006 (source)

What are your plans? Will you join in the celebration? Let us know in the comments.

 

Frances Willard – Forgotten Feminist

Often when we think about the temperance movement it’s limited to Prohibition, mobsters, and the roaring twenties. Temperance was an idea that was tried and failed in the sense that it didn’t work well for the country resulting in the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment via the Twenty-first Amendment. Because it is an idea that came and went, it is easy to forget the individuals who made their mark in history through the temperance movement. One of these individuals is Frances Willard.

But Frances Willard was much more than a temperance worker. She was a feminist and an advocate for women’s rights in the broadest sense. Her motto: ‘Everything is not in the Temperance Movement, but the Temperance Movement should be in everything‘  was her way of rallying a large number of women all across the country to work for reform in many different areas, but always with temperance at the core.

The Temperance movement was born out of the Second Great Awakening of religious fervor in America in the early nineteenth century. One of the people who found a renewed spirituality and a call to serve was Josiah Willard. In 1841, in order to study for the ministry under Charles Finney, Josiah and his wife Mary took their two children, Oliver and two year old Frances, and moved to Oberlin Ohio. He and Mary both studied at Oberlin College for the next four years until Josiah’s health required a move to the country.

In 1846, the family moved to a farm outside Janesville, Wisconsin, where Oliver, Frances, and younger sister Mary, born in Oberlin, spent 13 happy years. Frances’s talents began to emerge during this time. Mary was more artistic; Oliver played “fort” and wanted to explore; but Frances wanted to play “city” and organize. Their mother taught them at home until public schools were available in the area and was aware of and promoted each of her children’s strengths. When Frances was 17 she went to the Milwaukee Seminary where her aunt taught. In 1858, the family moved to Evanston Illinois where Frances attended the Evanston College for Ladies and graduated valedictorian in 1859.

Between 1859 and 1868, Frances taught school at various places before returning to the Evanston College for Ladies as the President, making her the first woman college president in the United States. When the college merged with Northwestern University in 1871, she became the Dean of Women. This was an ideal position for Frances to use her considerable organizational skills, but it was short lived. She resigned in 1874 after having her influence and responsibilities greatly reduced by the President of Northwestern, Charles Fowler. These may have been typical university political struggles, but they were complicated by the fact that Frances had previously been engaged to Fowler and broken the engagement. This experience left Frances distraught and at a loss as to how to proceed in her life. She had no desire to go back to one small schoolhouse after the other teaching. She also believed that God would use her.

Willard with Anna Gordon and Mary Willard.

These years had been difficult for Frances in other ways as well. Both her father and her younger sister Mary died of tuberculosis and her brother Oliver began to drink heavily and gamble. She found herself without work and her mother’s sole source of support, so after leaving the University, she decided to go on the lecture tour for the cause of temperance. Frances was tireless, over the next ten years she averaged 30,000 miles and 400 lectures a year. Never domestically inclined, this suited the independent non-conformist side of Frances, but she was also ambitious.

In 1874, Frances became the corresponding secretary of the newly formed Women’s Christian Temperance Union, the President of the Chicago chapter, and head of the WCTU publications committee. During her lectures, Frances also began to speak in favor of women’s suffrage. Just as Lucy Stone and Susan B. Anthony found in the abolition society, this created a conflict with the leadership, in Frances’s case Annie Wittenmyer, the first WCTU president.

This is where Frances’s brilliance as a strategist began to show. As corresponding secretary, no problem or concern was too small to receive a letter from her. Through her travels and letter writing, with the help of long-time companion Anna Gordon, she made personal contacts all over the country. When the time was right, in 1879, Frances ran for president of the national WCTU, and won. She held this position until her death in 1898.

Many women in the WCTU were conservative and involved in the fight against alcohol because they believed that indulgence was sinful and because of the impact it had on the family. The fight for temperance was seen as fighting for the home, family, and motherhood thus an acceptable cause for women to work outside their homes, but many saw suffrage as too radical. Frances had the same values with regard to alcohol; she had seen its devastating effects in her brother’s life, but she also believed that the way for women to affect change in their domestic lives was to have the vote. She insisted that women not view themselves as the “weaker sex” and that they had a place in politics.

Wittenmyer had insisted on uniformity among the chapters of the WCTU. Frances preferred a more liberal approach. As long as the chapters took the temperance pledge and paid their dues they had the flexibility to work for the causes appropriate to their location. “Do everything,” was her motto. This led to work in many different areas, such as free school lunches, 8 hour work days, anti-rape laws, protection for children against abuse, and work relief for the poor. Although some thought that too broad a focus would fracture the organization, Frances’s organizational skills, her intense travel schedule, and prolific correspondence prevented this from happening.

Frances Willard was the first woman to be represented in the Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol.

Frances Willard’s profound belief that she was called by God for this task, her excellent speaking skills, and even her feminine demeanor made her and her message acceptable to some who rejected the message of other suffragists of the time. At the time of her death in 1898, the WCTU had grown to approximately 150,000 women, making it the largest women’s organization in the world at the time, and making Frances one of the most famous women in the nation. She truly had an impact on the fight for women’s rights and should be remembered for her considerable contribution.

Frances was also a prolific writer. Some of her works were
Woman and temperance, or the work and workers of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, 1883
Glimpses of fifty years: the Autobiography of an American Woman, 1889
How to Win: A Book for Girls, 1886
Woman in the Pulpit, 1888
Do everything: a Handbook for the World’s White Ribboners, 1895
A Wheel within a Wheel: How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, 1895

Resources
Sisters: The Lives of America’s Suffragists by Jean H. Baker
Glimpses of fifty years: the Autobiography of an American Woman, 1889
The Beautiful Life of Frances E. Willard by Anna Adams Gordon

Anti-suffrage Cartoons

Once the suffrage movement got going, it met with fierce resistance in some circles. These women were ridiculed and reviled, portrayed as neglecting their homes, as “unsexed” bitter women, or just simply ridiculous. Here are a few cartoons meant to convince people that if women won the right to vote, it would be a disaster.

“It is time that the women who are opposed to the concession of the parliamentary franchise to women should make themselves fully and widely heard. The matter is urgent. Unless those who hold that the success of the women’s suffrage movement would bring disaster upon England are prepared to take immediate and effective action, judgement may go by default and our country drift towards a momentous revolution, both social and political, before it has realised the dangers involved.”  Manifesto of the Anti-Suffrage League 1908

Surely, women couldn’t keep up with their housework AND vote!

The argument that empowering women automatically meant dis-empowering men.

I guess marriage would have “tamed” them.

Considering several prominent suffragists were involved in the free love movement, this doesn’t really hold water.

Women such as Fanny Wright and Anna Dickinson were eloquent and gifted speakers.

Being pro-woman doesn’t mean being anti-man, although some people would like you to think that.

Regardless of what many people want, time moves on and we will never be crammed back into our “grandmother’s pattern.”

The Anti’s Alphabet

The Woman’s Protest, an anti-suffrage newspaper, published this “Anti’s Alphabet” in August, 1912.

A is for Antis with Banner afloat;
B is for Battle against woman’s vote.
C is for Children we fight to protect;
D is for Duties we never neglect.
E is for Energy strengthened by hope.
F is for Folly with which we must cope.
G is the germ of unrest in the brain.
H is for Home, which we mean to maintain.
I is Insurgency now in the air;
J is calm Judgement we’re bringing to bear.
K is for Knights, our American men;
L, Loyal Service far out of our ken.
M is for Might in our cause to prevail;
N, Noble standards that naught can assail.
O, Obligations we cannot ignore;
P is for Principle marching before.
Q is the Quibble which we must combat;
R is for Reason that answers it pat.
S is Sound Sense, which we have on our side;
T is for Truths that cannot be denied.
U is for Union, whose aid we entreat;
V, Votes for women, we’re sworn to defeat.
W is wages the suffragettes claim;
X is for Xanthic, the color and fame.
Y is for Yankee, of Red, White and Blue;
Z is the Zeal to protect them for you.

What are your thoughts? Does any of this sound familiar? Let us know.

Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention

“Father what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by people of the state.
Are women people?
No my son, criminals, lunatics, and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh no; they are paid a salary.
By whom?
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.”
(Are Women People? by Alice Duer Miller)

The more I read about the women’s suffrage movement the more I stand in awe at what the many woman who went before us accomplished against great odds. They educated themselves and spoke out at a time when it was considered inappropriate at best and scandalous by many. They were arrested, went on hunger strikes, and in the case of Emily Davison died after being run over by a horse. Many had the support of fathers or husbands who agreed with them and supported them, but others opted not to be constrained by the bonds of marriage.

The women who fought for the right to vote in the United States and Great Britain were as varied as women are today. They were Atheists and Quakers, school teachers, writers, speakers, and housewives. Many of them were abolitionists. There were harsh disagreements between them about what the goals were and how they could be achieved. For many the original goal wasn’t even the right to vote, but simply the right to be seen as equal before the law in things such as property rights.

It is difficult to say when the women’s suffrage movement began. One landmark event, however, was the Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, held July 19 – 20, 1848. According to Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s own account it was organized on short notice. Lucretia Mott and her husband were visiting the area and five women met for tea – Lucretia Mott, Mary Ann McClintock, Martha Coffin Wright, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Jane Hunt. Together they decided to hold a convention and placed an ad in the local newspaper the next day, July 14, 1848.

Lucretia and James Mott – Lucretia was an eloquent speaker at the convention. James presided over the second day.

Prior to the convention Stanton, with help from the other women, drafted a Declaration of Sentiments based on the Declaration of Independence, declaring that “all men and women are created equal.” Attached to this was a list of grievances. The Convention would take place over two days, the first of which would include only women where the Declaration of Sentiments would be discussed one paragraph at a time and modified as necessary. The second day, men were invited to attend. Ironically, Lucretia Mott’s husband, James, was asked to moderate the meeting on the second day because it was considered inappropriate for a woman to preside over a meeting with men in attendance.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

During the discussion of the second day, the only resolution to cause much dissent was the ninth, added by Stanton.

Resolved, that it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise.

Even Lucretia Mott thought it shouldn’t be included. Most were concerned that it would detract from the other resolutions that they believed were more reasonable. The tide turned when Fredrick Douglass rose to speak. He was an eloquent speaker and convinced the crowd that the country would be better off if women were involved in the political sphere as well as social and religious affairs. The resolution passed.

In spite of the passage of all the resolutions, there were undercurrents of disagreement and discontent. Of the 300 attendees, only 100 signed the Declaration. Word got back to Stanton in the following days of the condemnation of the convention from various pulpits, even though the convention had been open to comments from the floor. Newspapers published opinions from both ends of the spectrum. As contentious as the feminist movement in recent times has been you can imagine the reaction they received in a time when women were in many ways considered the property of the men in their lives.

Over the next seventy years, there would be many disagreements between the women and men involved in this fight. The fight to achieve the vote for African-American men after the Civil War, would cause division, some feeling that the two causes must be separated or risk losing the right for black men. When it became clear that the resistance in Congress to women’s suffrage was too strong, the issues were separated and the Fifteenth Amendment passed giving African-American men the right to vote. Another major disagreement would be over the approach, fighting for the right one state at a time or pushing for a constitutional amendment. Ultimately, each of these things occurred.

Some consider the Seneca Falls convention a minor event in the history of suffrage. Women had been working in small local groups for women’s rights for years. Two years later, in 1850, the National Women’s Rights Convention organized by Paulina Wright Davis and Lucy Stone would draw women from across the country. Seneca Falls may only be symbolic, but regardless the movement was on its way.

There are many women who contributed to women’s rights in general and suffrage in particular over the years. Most of the women at Seneca Falls wouldn’t live to see the Nineteenth Amendment pass. In future posts I want to look at women in this earlier generation, but also at some of the women who brought the dream to fruition here in the US and also in Great Britain.

To see the entire Declaration of Sentiments click here.
Read more about the suffrage movement here.

Resources
Are Women People? A Book of Rhymes for Suffrage Times by Alice Duer Miller
A People’s History of the United States
by Howard Zinn
Eight Years and More by Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Other Powers: The Age of Suffrage, Spiritualism, and the Scandalous Victoria Woodhull by Barbara Goldsmith