“Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.” – Susan B. Anthony
A few weeks ago, my mother called to tell me all about what she learned during a visit to the Women’s Suffrage Museum in Lorton, Virginia. She was showing some out of town guests around the Woodbridge, Virginia area and they stumbled upon what is known as the Workhouse Museum. It is open at the Lorton Arts Foundation space.
She said that the “tour guide” was an elderly woman who told her the story behind how the American woman suffrage movement came to be what was then called the “Occoquan Workhouse.”
This prompted me to “google” the location and I learned that in 1917, a group of women, termed “suffragists,” were imprisoned at the workhouse for demanding the right to vote. Feminist Sonia Pressman Fuentes documents this history in her article on Alice Paul. She includes this re-telling of the story of Occoquan Workhouse’s “Night of Terror,” November 15, 1917
90th Anniversary of Women’s Right to Vote
This year marks the 90th anniversary of a woman’s most valued right, the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment, giving women the right to vote, passed on August 26, 1920, but the road to the Occoquan Workhouse had started in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention in New York. There groups of brave women joined forces to write and sign the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions, which outlined the issues and goals of the budding Women’s rights movement.
I have always understood the importance of public service, political leadership and civic duty. It wasn’t anything that I was taught growing up. Somehow, I just “knew.”
It’s why I’ve always maintained strong involvement in political and civic organizations and probably why I built a career in media as well as government, so that I wouldn’t miss anything.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget, however, that the fundamental principles of American democracy weren’t always around and available to everyone. Hearing these stories reminds us of the struggles and the sacrifices that others made so that U.S. citizens, women and men, of all races and cultural backgrounds could exercise their authority directly through voting and indirectly through their elected officials.
Women with more to lose than any of us could ever imagine, fought and struggled for equal rights and the opportunity for a vote in our democracy.
Right and Responsibility to Vote
Today, there are more women registered to vote than men. But according to the Washington Post, only 17 percent of members of Congress are women, and women make up just 24 percent of state lawmakers. Being registered alone doesn’t cut it. Women and other minority groups need to participate in all parts of the public and political spectrum if we are going to see those stats change. If we want our political representatives to mirror us, our values and our needs, we should encourage our community to vote, we need to be represented at the polls, we should run for office and support other women in office.
On the eve of election day 2010, reflecting on how far society has come as a result of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and exercising our right to vote, are the only ways that we can truly thank those who fought so hard to give us a choice.