Scribble Sisters on Suffrage

Suffrage Comes to Women, 1920

by Susan Blandy

My Quaker grandmother, born in 1873 and the oldest of 4 (the rest boys), grew up in rural Indiana.  Her mother was English, feisty and well-read, full of energy.  Her father’s family were disciplined, successful farmers used to having their opinions count.  In a tiny town where no one was a stranger, the election results were usually known before voting day, and women were not afraid to have opinions. 

Grandmother, after high school, went off to Oberlin College, well-known as a fully co-ed and inter-racial school where suffrage sentiment hung thick as ivy on the campus.

All forms of equal rights were debated.  Eventually my grandmother was asked to leave because she “walked together with a male student.”  Yes, they DID get married, lived in Cleveland where they both, in “appropriate ways”, worked for suffrage and human rights. 

My grandmother had a special suffrage shirtwaist and ribbon for marches.  She was on an action committee where she wrote letters constantly.  She did outrageous things like working ecumenically on suffrage, combining those groups with Black and immigrant groups, social workers, anyone who could ramp up the impact of the groups.  

Meanwhile these women were running households and volunteering to help the War Effort and the Flu Epidemic.

One day my father came home from school to hear his mother whistling in the kitchen: loudly, vigorously, on and on.  (Never mind the adage: “A whistling woman and a crowing hen will come to no good end.”  My father didn’t know his mother COULD whistle.) 

Suffrage was real! Women could vote! Their opinion counted!  Influence is fine, being IN the count is better.   It was time to plan another march to the downtown City Square. This was REAL!  In the photos my grandmother is glowing.


Watching My Mother Vote

by Marianne DeKoven

I was visiting my 97-year-old mother in her nursing home in Skokie, IL.  Skokie is just outside the Chicago city limits.  I grew up in Chicago but had lived in Brooklyn, NY with my husband and children for many years.

As usual the flight from La Guardia had gone smoothly.  I had gotten right into my Budget rental car at O’Hare and driven to the comfortable hotel I always stayed in, a few blocks from the nursing home.  I grabbed a bite from the Panera located between the nursing home and the hotel.  All was so convenient—such easy, quick movement for me.  I took that for granted, and didn’t think about how hard, inconvenient and slow any movement was for my mother.

It was election day.  People from the Board of Elections were in the big main floor cafeteria, ready to help residents vote.  They had the kind of ballot that required using a metal stylus to poke through your candidate’s hole.  You had to poke hard to get the stylus all the way through.  It was the so-called butterfly ballot that produces hanging chads, the one that defeated Al Gore in 2000, with the help of Antonin Scalia.  Many of the nursing home residents, including my mother, needed help poking.

None of this voting experience was private, but my mother didn’t seem to mind.  She had already lost her privacy and was used to it.  I sat across from her at a long cafeteria table.  The woman helping her, seated to her left, had a completely neutral expression.  She gave me a tiny smile, but then shifted back to neutral.  My mother held the stylus in her right hand, shaky but determined.  As soon as she had the tool planted on the correct hole, the helper put her hand on top of my mother’s and together they pushed down hard.  A look of triumph came over my mother’s face each time the stylus pushed all the way through the correct hole.

She had been born in 1908 when women were not yet allowed to vote.  When I was a child, she took me with her to the voting booth as if it were a sacred altar.

In her nursing home—the best I had been able to find–my mother had extremely limited movement, only in her wheelchair and only back and forth from her room to the small dining room on her floor.  So much of her life was difficult, lonely, and tedious.  She who had been a great athlete, a woman with will and power, was now draining away.  But she still could exercise her right to vote.


Voting, as I See It 

by Margaret Howland

The first election in which I voted was the Presidential election in November 1960. John F. Kennedy was the Democratic candidate, running against the Republican Richard M. Nixon.  The election was preceded by a fierce campaign. Getting elected was not easy.  Kennedy was to be the youngest man ever elected President, and he was a Roman Catholic,  a fact that worried many potential voters who wondered if the Pope would exert undue influence on a Catholic or if Kennedy would model his views and actions on Catholic policy and tradition. (Forward to today, when religion has become much less important in appointing new Justices. The current court is composed of six Catholics and three Jews.)

Kennedy’s campaign travels brought him through Indiana, PA, where I lived. I was thrilled. Of course I went to see him when his motorcade stopped at the County Court House. I remember him standing on the steps of the old brick Court House, surrounded by masses of people. I was well back in the crowd and I don’t remember a word he said, but I knew he was my candidate.

I was heavily influenced by my parents, who were devout Democrats. Both had grown up in working class families, raised by their mothers after their fathers were killed in industrial accidents. There was no Workers Compensation or Social Security in those early 20th Century days, so both families had a hard go of it. My father dropped out of high school after tenth grade (although he was invited to come back to play football!) Mom finished high school but her dreams of college evaporated. Both went to work to help their mothers support the family. Eventually Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal came along, a gift from heaven for these families.

My parents never forgot. They voted the Democratic ticket throughout their lives. My mother was especially vocal in her preference for Kennedy. A Democrat AND a Catholic! A bright young man who had some governmental experience! In her opinion he was a perfect candidate.

It wasn’t a hard-sell to me. He was relatively young, 43, handsome, beautifully spoken, and I liked his platform that emphasized human rights for all, help for the working classes, help for students, basic civil rights in education, housing, and economic opportunity, aid for the aged, and a fiscal responsibility policy that had saved the taxpayers $4 billion during his time in the Senate as Chair of the Government Operations Subcommittee.

I was proud to vote for President Kennedy and devastated by his assassination in November, 1963.

In 2008 and again in 2012 I voted for Barack Obama, also a Democrat, and the first African-American President. Mr. Obama was also a man who favored tax cuts for the middle and lower classes, seniors and others in need, ending tax breaks for certain businesses, and investing in a major overhaul to the health care system, which passed (eventually) and became known as “Obamacare.”

As the years have gone by, despite my husband and I having sufficient incomes to boost us into a more affluent level of the middle class, I have never found reason to change my beliefs  I vote Democratic in Presidential elections, and despite a few reservations here and there I have never been disappointed in the Democrat chosen to run and have been pleased when and if they won the election.

We always vote in local elections, and as an active member in the local branch of the American Association of University Women, I have assisted with organizing and staging a candidate forum for the state candidates for office in 2018, and I am working on a similar forum for 2020.

My candidates of choice don’t always win in any election, but I do campaign, register people to vote, and try to support the candidate who is best qualified for the position. I am not nearly so “party specific” in local elections, and I campaigned aggressively for Pete McCloskey, a Republican candidate for the House from northern California, back when we lived there. Pete was all the things one looks for in a candidate: intelligent and educated, involved, caring, experienced in some level of government. He won, and served California well for eight terms, including a run for President in 1972, where he was defeated by incumbent Richard Nixon.

I feel it is an obligation of any US citizen to vote, to use the polling place to express my preference of issues, best done through the candidate who reflects my choices. I disagree vigorously with the folks who say “I don’t like any of them so I’m not voting.” Or “They are all a bunch of crooks.” Do some investigation in advance – they all have websites outlining their thoughts. Choose your candidates carefully, and vote for that person, whether his/her platform suits you exactly or not. Or write in the name of a person you feel would be a better choice.  Just VOTE! It’s the American Way!


Fear of Voting

by Ruth Bornholdt Olsson

This is not a story about women’s suffrage.  The rights of women were a given for me and my foreign-born mother and grandmother, the nineteenth amendment just a couple of paragraphs in my history book.  No, this is a story about fear and lack of self-confidence in the voting booth.

The voting age was 21 in 1960, the year I became eligible to vote.  It was a presidential year, and of course I would vote.  I had recently married and even more recently graduated college.  We were living in California, and I knew my civic duty when I saw it.

But I was nervous.  Not about the issues, not about the candidates.  After all, I was the daughter of two Republicans; I figured I must be Republican, too.  There wasn’t any question which way I’d vote.

Yes, folks.  Much to my shame, I helped to give you Richard Nixon.  This despite the chatter going on around me at work about a handsome young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy.

But, back to my story.  I was nervous about the process.  Where is the voting place?  Suppose I go in the wrong door or stand in the wrong line.  Suppose I don’t understand the ballot or that I mark the wrong places by mistake.  I was sure everyone at the polls knew exactly what to do except me–and that I would be found out and perhaps given a summons.

Somehow I got the idea that, once in the voting booth, I HAD to vote for even the many obscure people and issues I’d never heard of.  And so I did.  It’s scary to realize that there are voters out there today who are as naïve as I was then and that our country’s fortunes depend on their whims.

I muddled through.  The years went by.  I voted in CA, N.J., PA, and VT, hopefully with ever more sophistication and self-confidence.  There were paper ballots, card ballots, machines where you pulled a lever, and machines where you pressed a button.  There were tables, boxes with slots, booths with levers, and booths with buttons to press.  Why oh why could there not be one universally used system in the U.S.?  I didn’t want to be confronted with a new method every time we moved.  I’m sure I’m not alone in hating technological change.

Then came the year that part of the ballot was devoted to voting for a slew of judges in Philadelphia, ten I think. I knew only two of the names.  This was not a subject I had paid attention to.  My plan was to vote for the two I’d heard of and leave the rest blank.  My voting booth machine had other plans for me.  After I’d marked the two I knew, I tried again and again to open the  curtain (this also registered the vote, I think) , but it would not budge.  Do you think I stuck my head out from the curtain and asked for help from the officer in charge like a normal person?  No, I did not.  I set right to work choosing eight more judges, on what basis I couldn’t tell you.  But yes, the curtain opened, and I was free.  That was the main thing.

There came a year, when my children were small, that we Philadelphians had to vote for a new mayor.  The notorious Frank Rizzo was seeking a second term in 1975, and the idea was to get him out of office.  There were posters everywhere advertising the other guy, whoever he was, and we were pretty confident we would get this done.  There were even Rizzo stickers stuck under the word “stop” on STOP signs all over our (admittedly liberal) neighborhood of Mount Airy.  My oldest child, Jeff, aged twelve, was duly impressed and imprinted with the thought that Rizzo would no longer be our mayor when he woke up the day after the election.  However, the unthinkable happened, and the dreaded Rizzo actually won!  A wise neighbor quipped, “As Mount Airy goes, so goes Mount Airy;” we were famous for picking the “wrong” side.  Perhaps this was a great lesson for Jeff in this age of Trump:  We can’t afford to be complacent.

So much for my voting confessions.  It is an important thing we do, and we take it lightly to our peril.  The story of women’s suffrage is a brave and noble one.  I apologize for my earlier ignorance and vow to march forward with suffragists of all eras-–most especially my conscientious and knowledgeable sisters in AAUW.  Ever onward!


Suffrage at 20

by Kathy Wagenknecht

A friend gave me a bumper sticker to hide the rusty spot on my 1966 Ford Falcon, my first car — white with red interior. I loved that car. And I was happy to dress her up with a scandalous bumper sticker that screamed in Big Red Letters: “WHY SWITCH DICKS IN THE MIDDLE OF A SCREW. VOTE FOR NIXON IN ‘72!’

I was 20. Not a subtle time of my life.

I really liked McGovern. I had been to a huge rally in St. Louis’s Forest Park where I first heard Leonard Cohen and Bill Withers perform. I was so incredibly cool, hanging with my “hippie” friends, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer, and cheering for George, George, George. Or shouting “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Fucking Nixon’s Got to Go.”

I smelled the earthy, sweet smell as joints were lighted behind me. I turned and got a face-full of exhaled smoke. I hadn’t actually tried “weed” yet, and the eye-stinging, cough-inducing cloud was not particularly enticing.

But I had that tale to tell when I got back to boring old Kansas City. I had been somewhere and seen something my friends had not. I got my five minutes of fame.

But about voting. I had railed about the voting age being 21. Guys my age were being sent to ‘Nam. They could be killed, but they couldn’t vote. (And in Missouri, they couldn’t drink beer, either, but that was a whole different problem.) They couldn’t vote out the war machine. They couldn’t elect someone who understood and stood for Peace.

But damned if they didn’t pass the 26th Amendment, allowing 18-year-olds to vote. And I had been so good at indignity.

At age 20, I cast my first vote, only marginally aware of the historical context, oblivious to how fortunate I was to be able to vote at all, let alone at age 20. I hated that my candidate didn’t win.

But I still had Nixon to kick around for a few more years.