I hear the narrative ‘women didn’t have the right to vote’ consistently used to as a weapon of entitlement and blame, a weapon that is is often aimed at men. This is also used here in America to shut down the voices of women who do not fall in line and agree that feminism is the way. However, the fact is, most people could not vote, not just women. And when the statement ‘women didn’t have the right to vote’ is made, what women are being spoken of? Let’s take a look at the history of the vote.
In the colonial era, not all white men were voting, as there were property restrictions as to which men were allowed to vote.
In 1607 Jamestown, Virginia was born.
By 1676 only those who owned property could vote. Freed slaves had limited freedom.
In 1718, Catholics were banned from voting.
In 1732 only taxpayers or wealthy white men with lots of property could vote. White men of poverty could not vote.
In 1737 New York, along with 3 other colonies, barred Jewish people from voting.
Now, the first woman to vote was Lydia Taft who voted on October 30th, 1756 as a proxy for her late husband. She voted again in 1758 as well as 1765.
In 1770, Crispus Attucks was the first black colonial soldier killed in the Boston massacre. He died for our independence and HE did NOT have the right to vote.
About 3 years after the Boston Tea Party, Catholics, Jews and Quakers were barred from voting.
I can assume by now it is already visible that many people struggled and were lacking the right to vote. Meanwhile some women were allowed to vote. White female widows of men who owned large amounts of property had the right to vote in New York until late 1700’s. Meanwhile black women had not once had the right to vote, black men and white men of poverty who were going to war and dying for their country had their rights restricted or had no rights to vote at all, Jewish communities were banned from voting as were the Asian and Native American communities.
It wasn’t until 1830 that Catholics, Jews and Quakers were no longer restricted from voting.
In 1830 Kentucky opened voting to widows and white women who did not own property.
In 1851, Isabella Baumfree who had changed her name to Sojurner Truth, made her voice known as she stood for women’s rights.
In 1857 the Supreme court ruled blacks regardless if they were living as free people or slaves could not be citizens.
In 1861 the civil war broke out.
In 1865 slavery was finally abolished.
In 1863 Lincoln frees the slaves, and in 1865 the 13th Amendment is approved:
“The 13th Amendment to the Constitution declared that “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Formally abolishing slavery in the United States, the 13th Amendment was passed by the Congress on January 31, 1865, and ratified by the states on December 6, 1865.”
In 1866, civil rights laws were extended to all born in America.
Between 1866-1869 black men got the right to vote, which of course as we know would not be safe until 1965.
In 1866, Women’s rights advocates formed the equal rights association by merging with Anti-Slavery association, which turned out to be a tool to use black women to their advantage.
Suffragists believed in campaigning peacefully and wanted to work together with men, so men were welcomed to join in. The suffragettes were a later movement of the women’s rights suffrage and they firmly believed in violence. They also wanted no part in working with men and so men were not allowed to join with them. The suffragists believed the right for women to vote would be achieved by peaceful campaigning, while the suffragettes chose violence at any cost, often costing the support towards women’s rights. Regardless, the suffragists were also known racists such as Frances E. Willard. They were all supposedly aligned with rights for blacks that was until it became clear that black men were getting the vote before them. In 1915 the ‘grandfather clause’ was finally deemed unconstitutional. Keep that in mind, because the supposed women’s suffrage movement did not.
There was one woman who was not fooled. Ida B. Wells was appalled that Frances E. Willard and the suffragettes were seen as friends of the community simply for allowing black women to join in the Women’s Christian Temperance Union [WCTU]. Wells described in her biography ‘Crusade for Justice’ how Willard:
“unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive.”
Ida B. Wells saw the women’s suffrage movement for what it was. She traveled to Britain to ask for support, but even there, they turned a blind eye, so completely taken in by Willard that they called her “uncrowned queen of American democracy.” This was how blinded people were to the actions of the suffragettes, but Ida B. Wells continued. She never backed down. She finally had her moment to call out Willard in May 1894 before British temperance advocates (abstinence from alcohol, the women’s suffrage movement was closely tied to this.) Both women were invited to speak. When Ida B. Wells was asked to share her opinion of Willard she simply re-read the interview with the New York Voice where Willard stated how she saw black people which included this statement:
Frances E. Willard-
“Alien illiterates rule our cities today; the saloon is their palace, and the toddy stick their scepter. The colored race multiplies like the locusts of Egypt.”
Ida B. Wells asked the audience ‘how influential white women could continue to turn a blind eye to the white mobs who threatened black lives. She was able to get The Fraternity, an English journal, to reprint this statement. Lady Somerset, another supposed woman’s suffrage leader, was so outraged at Wells she demanded the journal not publish what she had stated or Wells would never be able to use her voice in Britain again. Sure, that sounds like taking a stand for women! Somerset even went further to demand that Fredrick Douglas, a famous abolitionist and first African American government official, reprimand Wells. This leaves me with the impression of Lady Somerset asking Fredrick Douglas to ‘collar your women.’ This is, again, not very aligned with either women’s suffrage or black liberation. Ida B. Wells did not care. This did not stop her, and The Fraternity did publish the interview.
Willard and Somerset did their best to shut Ida B. Wells up. They tried to publicly embarrass her and created an interview with the Westminster Gazette. Somerset was the one who did the interview, no bias there of course. Willard started out with her facade of caring for the black population but then stated:
‘”the best people I knew in the South” had told her black people were threatening the safety of white women and children.
She went on to say:
“It is not fair that a plantation Negro who can neither read or write should be entrusted with the ballot.”
Not exactly a step up from the last interview.
Their arrogance, ignorance and self righteousness was so grand as to believe this interview was what was missing. They tried to slander the work of Ida B. Wells to shut her up. Now mind you, these were supposed women’s suffrage supporters who were doing everything in their power to shut down the voice of a black woman who took a stand for liberty for all. Yes, other publications tried to shut down Wells, and the interview she shared -which was straight from Willards mouth mind you- as ‘foul and slanderous.’
This didn’t stop Ida B. Wells. She gave no care and pressed on. She was invited to speak in London, and even had dinner in Parliament. Before leaving she established the London Anti-Lynching Committee. Many of those who were well known in society, including members of Parliament, joined as well. After doing everything to try and destroy Ida B. Well’s reputation and work, Willard and Somerset eventually joined.
Ida B. Wells had this to say in her biography of the attacks by Somerset and Willard, that it:
“was not only a boomerang to Miss Willard. It seemed to appeal to the British sense of fair play. Here were two prominent white women, joining hands in the effort to crush an insignificant colored woman who had neither money nor influence — nothing but the power of truth with which to fight her battles.”
Sure enough, the supposed woman’s suffrage movement, the suffragettes, used black women along with white women of poverty to get their numbers up, then once they got the right to vote they enacted something quite similar to the grandfather clause to keep black women and white women of poverty out of the vote. There were two warring houses of suffragettes that banded together once the voting rights were not passed. We talk about women’s suffrage, yet before women’s suffrage there was male suffrage and black male suffrage that no one seems to talk about. It wasn’t until 1868 that male suffrage had been accomplished and granted all men 21 and over the right to vote. To say ‘oh women didn’t have the right to vote’ is a neat little trick on twisting history.
Many of the suffragettes were a part of the WKKK, women’s KKK. By the way, the WKKK found it acceptable that black women, white women of poverty and promiscuous women should be raped. They were wealthy white women who had this to say about black men getting the right to vote:
Anna Howard Shaw, President of National Woman Suffrage Association-
“You have put the ballot in the hands of your black men, thus making them political superiors of white women. Never before in the history of the world have men made former slaves the political masters of their former mistresses!”
Belle Kearney, Mississippi state senator-
“The enfranchisement of women would insure immediate and durable white supremacy, honestly attained, for upon unquestioned authority it is stated that in every southern State but one there are more educated women than all the illiterate voters, white and black, native and foreign, combined. As you probably know, of all the women in the South who can read and write, ten out of every eleven are white. When it comes to the proportion of property between the races, that of the white outweighs that of the black immeasurably.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton- Suffragette-
“What will we and our daughters suffer if these degraded black men are allowed to have the rights that would make them even worse than our Saxon fathers?”
Laura Clay- founder of Kentucky’s first suffrage group-
“The white men, reinforced by the educated white women, could ‘snow under’ the Negro vote in every State, and the white race would maintain its supremacy without corrupting or intimidating the Negroes.”
I can go on, and I think you get my point. Please tell me that these wealthy white women suffered all of this while black men died as slaves and at war, white men of poverty died at war and still couldn’t vote, Asians were not allowed to be seen as citizens, Native Americans whose land we took over were still not able to vote and black women are still changing these wealthy white women’s linens, cooking their food, being raped and killed at will, beaten while these wealthy white elitist white supremacist women had their husbands pay for everything for them. Tell me, I am supposed to praise these women? I don’t think so.
So you see, when I’m told that feminism stood for women’s rights it is clear to me this is not true. Feminism stems from suffragettes. It is rooted in white supremacy and violence. Suffragettes were a reactionary cause, not based on women’s rights but using the banner of women’s rights to push their white supremacy for wealthy white women only, no one else. White women of poverty still struggled with their right to vote as many could not afford the education limits that were enforced by the suffragettes to limit the vote to wealthy white women. Feminists continued to ignore the rights of the black community, both women and men. Black women and men, we owe our human rights to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and all of the black men and women like Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass along with the white men and women who infiltrated the KKK and once found were tortured and killed for standing for our human rights. Ida B. Wells spoke up adamantly against the racism of the suffragettes who supported the lynch mobs, was exiled from Tennessee for inspiring 6,000 of the black community to leave, researched and interviewed people behind the real reason black men were being lynched, and thoroughly investigated the alleged rapes of white women. Ida B. Wells birthed the civil rights movement with her writing. Dorothy Height, Rosa Parks and many more who stood for us as well. Those are women who marched for equality.
As I have clearly shown, many people were fighting for the right to vote, not just wealthy white women. Native Americans did not get the right to vote until 1948 and we took their country from them. Meanwhile, the black community was still facing discrimination and opposition in voting all the way up until 1963. Even as late as 1965 black people were being beaten by authorities for standing for their rights to vote, because they were black, simply for that reason alone. It wasn’t until President Lyndon Johnson created the Voting Rights Act in 1965 that the literacy tests in deep down South were suspended and the black community was given police protection for the right to vote. Remember, there were still our military men going to war and dying between 18 and 21 who were STILL not able to vote until the 26th amendment in 1971!
It’s time to let this sneaky conversation of ‘women didn’t have the right to vote’ die. The reality was most people didn’t have the right to vote and the suffragettes fought only for their own right to vote as wealthy white women, never mind anyone else including other white women that did not fit their income bracket. American feminism is missing the mark. Right now there are women in Iraq who are suffering horrors, honor killings abound, and FGM continues in many countries. American feminism does not march for these issues and does not hold my respect.
In our country there are women’s issues that can be addressed such as postpartum depression and creating support for this, addressing how women are treated when they are giving birth, having conversations to support women loving themselves exactly as they are. I do not see women being supported by feminism.
Again, anyone can stand for women’s rights. We don’t need anyone’s permission to do so. Not calling oneself a feminist does not make one the devil or a ‘woman hater,’ those are just ways that people dehumanize each other for not fitting into a specific label, and I do not buy that. To dehumanize someone for choosing what is authentic for them does not a human rights movement make. We are all sovereign beings before we are a label or a movement. Community creates the shifts that are needed here in the US, not what label we choose or do not choose.
I look forward to the day all of those women under ISIS terror and other horrors around the globe are free to live like an American woman. As an American, it is my duty to stand for the awareness of these women as I have the privilege and rights these women do not. I do not see American feminism doing this. I stand by the feminists in Iraq and in other countries where women really are oppressed to actually have the human rights I have. I also stand for the men who’s human rights are being ignored globally as well so they may be free from being murdered and abused at will. I do not wish to be like the suffragettes who only wanted to stand for what they personally wanted at the expense of, and with no awareness to, everyone’s needs around them. I stand by women’s rights, and I stand by men’s rights many of which are still being ignored here in America, including bodily autonomy and the right to safety by having male domestic violence shelters. I stand by human rights. I do not live a life where going outside means I have to hide from terrorists running through my streets abducting those I love, killing my country men and my countrywomen, that is not the life of an American woman. I am grateful for my freedom and safety and I wish the same for all women, all men, all people.
I write this for one simple reason, for awareness.
I was a feminist for 13 years and I know that many feminists may not be aware of everything I shared here.
It’s high time we complete with the narrative of ‘women didn’t have the right to vote’ being used to blame men, victimize women, misconstrue history and support entitlement. If we are going to work together, then we recognize that everyone suffered throughout history, not just one group of people. I cannot in good conscience pretend that the narrative ‘women didn’t have the right to vote’ is the full story. I stand by We rise, We rise together, and if we are to do that, we need to be conscious of and question the narratives that have become commonplace. The so called ‘norm’ that must to be questioned. Of course, don’t take my word for it. Do your own research and find the truth yourself.
The 13th Ammendment: https://www.loc.gov/rr/program/bib/ourdocs/13thamendment.html
‘The Women Behind The Masks of Hate’ by Dinitia Smith, this article goes into the link between KKK and suffragettes: http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/26/books/the-women-behind-the-masks-of-hate.html
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