From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot

In the wake of the upcoming Presidential election, it is imperative that we as citizens and most especially, we as women, take heed of the issues currently facing our country and make sure our voices are heard on election-day. More importantly, we must remember the hundreds of women who came before us and fought to ensure that we as women were given the right to vote. Below is a brief but informative history of the suffragettes’ path and how even today, it is still relevant.  – V. Jones

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot
The Members of Russian band Pussy Riot

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot

The 2012 USA Women’s Olympic Teams broke records, kicked butt, and made headlines.  Shannon Eastin became the National Football League’s First Female Line Judge and refereed her first game in San Diego, and Tammy S. Smith became the Army’s first openly gay brigadier general.  The All-Male Augusta National Golf Club finally let women in, inviting Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and business executive Darla Moore. Diana Nyad made her fourth attempt swimming from Cuba to Florida and was forced to abandon her thirty-five year old dream, one day shy of her 63rd birthday, and comedy pioneer Phyllis Diller died.

That was just in August!

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot
Anne Hutchinson

Also in August, the ghost of Anne Hutchinson, 17th Century Puritan, mother of the First Amendment, and religious freedom pioneer, hovered around Pussy Riot, a Russian punk rock band comprised of three women (two of them moms of young kids) who were convicted of premeditated hooliganism. The sentence of two years came about after the band performed a punk prayer in a Russian church criticizing President Vladimir Putin.  Because of this, they were considered to be a danger to society and were accused of religious hatred as their challenge of authority and government took place in a sacred space – a church.  Just as Pussy Riot challenged authority, Anne Hutchinson who was a bible teacher, midwife, and mother of fifteen also took a stand against her government and religious leader. Only her stand took place in the 1600s when women were still viewed as property. Her stand took the form of “religious meetings” in her own home and sharing her opinions with other women and even some men, making the meetings promiscuous – a sin. Attendees even included Governor Vane.  Her outlandish ideas included the belief that one could have salvation (a Puritan biggie) just by having faith and  one could pray and feel god all by oneself.  She called this The Covenant of Grace, which opposed the Covenant of Works, which the Church preached, requiring one to do service – work – to earn salvation. Like Pussy Riot, Anne Hutchinson also got two years – mostly because that’s how long her trial lasted – but she used the time to birth a baby (her fourteenth!) and stand up – literally – to the men who accused her.  Helping her stand her ground was the fact that she was smarter than them and knew the bible inside and out having an answer for every one of their questions.  In the end she was convicted of heresy and sedition and was banished to Rhode Island, a state founded on the premise of “separation of church and state”.  In 1802, Thomas Jefferson first wrote about the state in his letter to the Danbury Baptists in reference to The First Fabulous Amendment.  Thank you Ms. Hutchinson.

When I first heard the Pussy Riot report on Friday August 17th on KABC News Los Angeles, the punk rock band’s name could not be said on Network Television.  It’s okay to say pussycat, pussy foot and pussy willow but not Pussy Riot.  As the story grew however, the band’s name was allowed to be uttered and printed.  Such “progress” is baffling given that that in 2012 a Congressman (Missouri Republican Todd Akin) can say on national television, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  The saddest part is that he believed it.

In August we celebrated Women’s Equality Day, a day when we honor and celebrate the passage of the 19th Amendment – The Susan B. Anthony Amendment – which “gave” women the right to vote.  It was in 1971, New York Congresswoman, activist, lawyer, and mom Bella Abzug, first introduced legislation to designate August 26th as Women’s Equality Day. As the National Women’s History Project (http://www.nwhp.org ) wrote however, in their August 2012 Newsletter, no one “gave” women the right to vote.  It was a long hard battle.

Those galvanizing women Susan B. Anthony and her partner Elizabeth Cady Stanton first introduced the Amendment way back in 1878.  They were long gone when the House passed it on May 21, 1919, and the Senate on June 4, 1919. It took thirty-six states to ratify an amendment and make it a law.  Harry Burns was a first time twenty-four year old Tennessee Member of The House of Representatives.  His mom sent him a now famous telegram:  “Hurrah! And vote for suffrage…” He did, making history and Tennessee the 36th state to ratify the amendment. Thanks mom!

The first woman who asked to vote – that we know of and can document – was Margaret Brent, way back in 1648. One of thirteen children, Margaret Brent was born in England and came from a family that was rich, Catholic, of noble descent, and distant cousins with England’s George Calvert – AKA Lord Baltimore, the “proprietor” of Maryland. Yes he OWNED Maryland. His brother, Leonard Calvert, was the Governor of Maryland, which was touted as a land of opportunity.  The colony needed settlers and Lord Baltimore enticed them by offering them land.  Now what set Margaret apart was she was thirty-seven and not married and she and her sister were property owners. Lord Baltimore had given them a land grant of seventy acres. In Maryland if one owned property and paid taxes, one could vote, but only if one were a man. Now if Margaret were to marry, the land would belong to her husband.  Margaret never married and “acquired” even more land. As it turns out Margaret was a terrific businesswoman, and was pretty darned good with real estate.  SO good that the Governor – on his deathbed – gave her power of attorney and made her executor of his will and estate. So now she owns, pays taxes as the owner and executor of two properties, and not surprisingly, she wants a vote. So she goes down to the courthouse and asks (actually demands) the right to vote.  They turned her down of course, but she still made history

The first woman on record who actually voted was Lydia Taft, of Massachusetts.  She and her husband were a prominent and wealthy family.  Only freeholders – white male property owners – were allowed to vote, but when her husband suddenly died, the townspeople decided to let Lydia cast a vote in an important meeting in 1756 that would determine whether to appropriate funds to the French and Indian War.  This was an historic feat and in 2004, a highway was named in her honor.

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot
Mott, Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Let us not forget 1848, when Elizabeth Cady Stanton, super cool Quaker Lucretia Mott, and a few other fabulous females had a little tea party that led to the very first Women’s Conference in Seneca Falls, New York. A sign was posted in the local paper: “Women’s Right’s Convention: A convention to discuss the social, civil and religious condition and rights of woman will be held….in the Wesleyan Church in Seneca Falls”. The women drafted a Declaration of Sentiments, modeled on the Declaration of Independence, which was the founding fathers list of eighteen grievances against King George, and substituted MEN for KING GEORGE. It was Elizabeth Cady Stanton however, who took the controversial and individual decision to go on record asking to be enfranchised and the right to vote. Being backed by Frederick Douglass, she stated: “… it is the duty of the women of this country to secure to themselves their sacred right to the elective franchise”. Though she got it in there, it would be another 72 years before women would vote.

In 1913, a woman named Alice Paul came along.  She was brilliant, strong, militant, hunger-striking, and Ivy League educated earning a BA, a Masters, a PHD, an LLB (bachelor of Law), an LLM (Master Of Law degree) and finally a Doctorate of Civil Law. Already formidable in her own right, as a suffragist she angered President Wilson when she managed to steal his parade, or rather his thunder.  The day before his inauguration March 1913, The President-Elect arrived at Union Station in Washington DC expecting a welcoming crowd. “Where are the people?” he asked.  Well, as it turns out, the crowds, he was told, “were on the Avenue watching the suffragist parade.” It was the largest parade ever held in Washington

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot
Alice Paulin Washington.

During her years of study, she took Alice spent time in England where she was fortunate enough to be mentored by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. The Pankhursts were militant suffragettes who smashed windows and used hunger strikes to get attention. While this was effective in England, it was not the case in America. When Alice returned to America, she, along with other women, tried hunger-strikes only to be arrested despite their legal and peaceful protests in front of the White House.

It was during WWI and their protests were seen as un-patriotic. Now Alice Paul and her fellow protesters had been trying for years to get President Wilson (who was still probably fuming over his lost parade) to address the issue of suffrage.  She was polite at first, but grew weary and frustrated and refused to be ignored.  It galled her and the other suffragettes that President Wilson was so willing, as she put it (and she put it on banners everywhere), to go to war to fight for liberty, but not for women!  “How long Mr. President, must women wait for liberty?” The women were arrested, charged with “obstructing sidewalk traffic,” and literally, THROWN in jail, specifically the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia. The incident took place on November 15th 1917, and is remembered as the Night of Terror. There is a wonderful movie called Iron jawed Angels starring Hilary Swank as Alice Paul, which tells this story. During the incident, the women were served food with worms, dirty water, and worse.  Many of the women were viciously brutalized, including Alice Paul’s friend Lucy Burns who was beaten, chained and left hanging all night. What a disgraceful chapter in our history.

From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot
Women-Protesting in 1917

In protest to the brutality, Alice went on a hunger strike.  For three weeks, three times a day, they stuck tubes down her throat, and force fed her raw eggs. Then the government hired a shrink to say she was insane – which often happened when women “got out of line” – however, this shrink said, “No this woman is NOT insane.” Remember that “courage in women is often mistaken for insanity”.

Many courageous women went to jail. The Night of Terror however, backfired on Wilson when word got out about how brutally the women were treated.  How they had applied for political prisoner status and were denied.  Throwing old ladies against the wall and beating them with their broken banners is NOT good publicity.   There was a hearing and a lot of press, which helped the movement. The torch was passed and the Nineteenth Amendment (Susan B. Anthony Amendment) was FINALLY passed!

Even after the passage of the nineteenth amendment, Alice continued her work. In 1923she wrote The Equal Rights Amendment – originally called The Lucretia Mott Amendment – however it wasn’t passed until 1972 when it was ratified by thirty-five states.  Ratification in 1923, required thirty-eight states. The main point of the amendment stated simply:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

We have come a long way since The 1848 Seneca Falls Convention, and there have been many, many, women’s conventions since, including the 1977 First National Women’s conference in Houston.  Thanks to Bella Abzug, for the first, (and only time) the Federal Government funded the Conference. A torch was carried from Seneca Falls to Houston Texas and presented to Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, and Rosalyn Carter who said: “it wasthe most important and exciting conference I have ever attended.From Anne Hutchinson to Pussy Riot

My oldest daughter is nineteen and this year she will vote in November.  I get choked up just thinking about it.  She knows how important it is.  I hope and pray that she and her younger sister appreciate the power of their vote.

Post -Amy Simon

Chief Editor – V. Jones

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