This month marks 100 years since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The Michigan primary elections were held this week. There were 20 women seeking an opportunity to run for Congress in November. Hundreds of women ran for local and state offices. And many of these women, now and over the years, are Jewish.
I mention this fact in the context of an anniversary. This month marks 100 years since the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. When it was ratified on Aug. 18, 1920, women finally gained the right to vote.
The struggle for women’s suffrage was a long one. When the Constitution was itself ratified in 1788, many American citizens could not vote, including women, white males without property and African Americans.
The 1848 Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, is often cited as the beginning of the Women’s Suffrage movement; that is, an organized effort to gain women the right to vote. There were activists before this time, but the Seneca Falls Convention was a landmark meeting organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
From this point in time until 1920, women organized, held parades, hunger strikes and other activities. By doing so, they often faced ridicule and verbal abuse, sometimes physical attacks, and arrest and jail terms.
In Michigan, the first prominent suffragette was Jewish. In March 1846, two years before the Seneca Falls Convention, Ernestine Rose made two speeches in the State Capital.
Granted, Rose spoke after the House Sessions had ended for the day so no one knows how many male representatives attended, but Rose is due great credit for her courage and determination.
I found a number of stories about Rose in the William Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. For example, she is cited, along with Uriah Levy, Louis Brandeis and Lillian Wald, in the Aug. 27, 1976, issue of the JN in a story titled “Four Great Personalities in U.S. Jewish History.” The Polish-born Rose was also a dedicated abolitionist before the Civil War and is often considered the first “Jewish feminist.”
From the 1840s to the early years of the 20th century, women’s suffrage grew into a formidable force. Thousands upon thousands of women, famous and unknown, would contribute to the movement. By 1912, nine western states had passed laws allowing women to vote, but Michigan still lagged behind.
Gov. Chase Osborn took a bold step in 1912 and asked that the Michigan House and Senate work on an amendment to the state constitution “for giving and insuring the right of [full] suffrage to the women….” But the effort failed.
In 1918, however, Michigan’s voters decided upon the issue. I found some interesting pages regarding the election in the Archive, including an editorial in the Nov. 1, 1918, issue of the Jewish Chronicle that promoted women’s suffrage. It concluded that “He who opposed the movement has not sensed the true meaning of American democracy.” Well, the Chronicle and Michigan voters were on the right side of history, and the state amendment passed.
Since then, women have voted, run for office and helped shape Michigan and America. This is indeed an anniversary to celebrate.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.