Give Thanks to Suffragettes

November 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Women voting in New York, 1917

Voting was great except for the curmudgeonly old man.

I walked a few blocks on a cool, sunny day to a local elementary school. Comedy Central had set up a booth outside, giving away stickers. I left Charles to chat with them, went inside and voted. It took me no more than ten minutes. After getting my ballot, the line for the booths had two people in it and when a booth came free we each said, “after you,” “no, after you.” Finally someone who hadn’t been in line at all took the booth. When it was my turn, the pen didn’t work, so I used my own pen and left it there. After putting the ballot through the scanner, I went out to the lobby and stopped at the table covered with cookies, brownies, cupcakes and candy—a benefit for hurricane victims, food provided by local bakeries and Lilac Chocolates. I admired the wares, then as one of the women started to describe each item, said, “I’m sorry, I wish I had cash with me!” She said, “Take what you want. I’ll cover it.” I was embarrassed but took a cookie. Charles was still voting so I walked to a new, tiny storefront bank a block away and got cash from the ATM. There weren’t any tellers but when I asked the people behind the desks if I could break a $20—and why—they were very happy to do so and we chatted about lines at polls, etc. I told them to bring extra pens. I went back to the school and gave the bake sale woman $10. She thanked me extravagantly. Then I lingered in the lobby talking to people about how great it was seeing everyone vote.

Finally, Charles appeared. He said, “You couldn’t have voted that fast. You must have jumped the line. Or else you just pretended to vote.”

I’ve discovered a great comic poet from the suffragette era.

A Consistent Anti to Her Son
(“Look at the hazards, the risks, the physical dangers that ladies would be exposed to at the polls.”—Anti-suffrage speech.)

You’re twenty-one to-day, Willie,
And a danger lurks at the door,
I’ve known about it always,
But I never spoke before;
When you were only a baby
It seemed so very remote,
But you’re twenty-one to-day, Willie,
And old enough to vote.
You must not go to the polls, Willie,
Never go to the polls,
They’re dark and dreadful places
Where many lose their souls;
They smirch, degrade and coarsen,
Terrible things they do
To quiet, elderly women—
What would they do to you!
If you’ve a boyish fancy
For any measure or man,
Tell me, and I’ll tell Father,
He’ll vote for it, if he can.
He casts my vote, and Louisa’s,
And Sarah, and dear Aunt Clo;
Wouldn’t you let him vote for you?
Father, who loves you so?
I’ve guarded you always, Willie,
Body and soul from harm;
I’ll guard your faith and honor,
Your innocence and charm
From the polls and their evil spirits,
Politics, rum and pelf;
Do you think I’d send my only son
Where I would not go myself?

Fashion Notes: Past and Present

1880—Anti-suffrage arguments are being worn long, calm and flowing this year, with the dominant note that of woman’s intellectual inferiority.
1890—Violence is very evident in this season’s modes, and our more conservative thinkers are saying that woman suffrage threatens the home, the Church and the Republic.
1900—A complete change of style has taken place. Everything is being worn a l’aristocrate, with the repeated assertion that too many people are voting already.
1915—The best line of goods shown by the leading anti-suffrage houses this spring is the statement that woman suffrage is the same thing as free love. The effect is extremely piquant and surprising.

Alice Duer Miller


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