Wilton Scholarly Series: The road to votes for women

National Woman’s Party activists watch Alice Paul of Ridgefield sew a star onto the NWP Ratification Flag, representing another state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Contributed photo
National Woman’s Party activists watch Alice Paul of Ridgefield sew a star onto the NWP Ratification Flag, representing another state’s ratification of the 19th Amendment. Contributed photo

One of the previous speakers in this year’s Scholarly Series said 1919 was such an alarming year of strife, one of the few good things to come out of it was the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Congress submitted the amendment to the states for ratification, which occurred the following year.
Discussing that will be the happy task of Pam Dougherty on Sunday, March 31, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., at the Wilton Historical Society, 224 Danbury Road. Her talk on Votes for Women is the fourth and final event in the four-part series, Sex Scandal and Upheaval: 1919 — What’s Changed? Register at wiltonlibrary.org or 203-762-6334.
Dougherty is a Wilton resident and the director of development for the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. Her talk will cover the history of women’s suffrage, Connecticut’s key figures within the movement, those who opposed the movement, and some of those who were left out of the movement altogether.
Gaining the right to vote was a watershed event for women, giving them sway in shaping the political agenda of the day and it giving them a place in society beyond the roles of wives and mothers.
The beginning of women’s quest to cast a ballot is generally regarded as the 1848 women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Over two days, there were myriad speeches promoting the equality of all people and on the second day a resolution calling for women’s enfranchisement was passed by a narrow margin.
“Seneca Falls was the first national movement to secure women’s right to vote, but as women became involved in reform movements in the early 1800s, it is almost certain that questions were raised regarding why women were not allowed a political voice,” Dougherty told The Bulletin in an email.
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted 20 years later in 1868 and addresses citizenship rights. Section 1 says “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
It goes on to say in Section 2: “But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the Executive and Judicial officers of a State, or the members of the Legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such State …”
The Bulletin asked Dougherty if the issue of women’s suffrage came up when the amendment was being written.
“The discussion of women’s suffrage did come up,” she said. “The careful wording of Section 2 of the amendment indicates that they were cautious of to whom they granted the right to vote.”
There were many arguments against women’s suffrage, Dougherty said. They included “lack of political understanding due to women’s domestic focus and that the right to vote would lessen the influence given to some women through social status.
“In response,” she said, “women’s suffrage organizers released pamphlets and included in their discussions information that refuted those ideas.”
Connecticut’s role
Some of the women’s suffrage movement’s most influential leaders came from Connecticut, many of whom are enshrined in the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. They and the organizations they founded “brought the debate of women’s suffrage to local levels and allowed Connecticut’s people to voice their thoughts from both sides of the debate,” Dougherty said.
One of these was Isabella Beecher Hooker, half sister to Uncle Tom’s Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe and education reformer Catharine Beecher. Hooker founded the Connecticut Woman Suffrage Association in 1869, and two years later put together a women’s suffrage convention in Washington, D.C. She planned similar conventions in Connecticut and introduced a married woman’s property bill into the state legislature. She continued to introduce it for seven years until its passage in 1877.
Alice Paul formed the National Women’s Party (NWP) in 1917 and during World War I she and her colleagues picketed the White House, protesting a government that fought for democracy abroad while denying half its citizens the right to vote. They wore white dresses and were known as “silent sentinels,” according to the Hall of Fame website. Convinced the 19th Amendment was not enough, Paul introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1923, which is one state short of ratification.
Before she married, Augusta Lewis’s work as a typesetter for New York newspapers in the mid-19th century gave her a window into the inequality women faced in the newspaper industry where they were paid less than men. Spurred on by this inequality, she founded the first trade union for women in New York City.
When she married labor leader Alexander Troup, the couple moved to Connecticut and founded the New Haven Union newspaper, which was dedicated to women’s suffrage, union organization and the rights of women and ethnic minority groups. She eventually became a teacher in New Haven and a member of the board of education where she advocated for teachers’ rights. In 1926, a school there was dedicated in her honor.
Hall of Fame
“Women have come a long way since gaining citizenship and the right to vote, but there is always more work to do,” Dougherty said.
To that end, the mission of the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame is to honor publicly the achievements of Connecticut women, preserve their stories, educate the public and inspire confidence in women and girls to move forward with the life they would like to lead.
It will have its first event in Fairfield County called Generations: A Conversation Between, The “F” Word, Feminism, on Wednesday, April 17, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Regina A. Quick Center, Fairfield University. Tickets are available through the Quick Center box office at quickcenter.com or 203-254-4010.
The event will feature women from four generations: attorney Elizabeth Austin (boomer), UConn professor Vida Samuel (Gen X), social worker Amarilis Pullen (millennial) and college senior Sean Tomlinson (Gen Z). It will be moderated by Asha Rangappa, senior lecturer at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs and CNN legal and national security analyst.
Information: pam@cwhf.org or cwhf.org.