Little Bits of History

Equal Rights

Posted in History by patriciahysell on September 19, 2012

Richard Seddon

September 19, 1893: The Electoral Act of 1893 passes. Suffrage or political franchise is the civil right to vote gained through a democratic process. One of the basic rights of democratic freedom is the right to have one’s voice heard at the ballot box. It has been a highly contested right over time and as the fight goes on, more people are given this “inalienable” right which was withheld from them. On this day, in New Zealand, women were given the right to vote, the first presently independent country to do so. The right was not easily won, however. Women of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and other independent souls thought that women having a voice in politics would bring a wider moral compass to the process. Opponents believed that women’s place was in the home. As a retort, women claimed having a voice in politics would help to protect families.

Jules Vogel, the eighth premier of New Zealand had tried to get the vote to women in 1887 but the bill failed. Others also narrowly missed being passed. Then in 1893, the Lower House passed a bill with a large majority. Next it needed to pass the Legislative Council (the upper house) and the voting was very close. Premier Richard Seddon ordered a Liberal Party councilor to change his vote to against the bill.  Two others were so annoyed that they switched their votes, too. They moved from against to for the passage and the bill went through the Council with a vote of 20 to 18. Both sides claimed they were responsible for the passage of the bill in order to gain favor with the newly minted voters across the country.

Women have been seeking a voice in government since voting began. Even in medieval Europe, city and town elections were open to head of households. In Sweden, between 1718 and 1771, women taxpayers who were listed as professionals in guild rolls were given the right to vote. In Corsica in 1755, unmarried or widowed women over the age of 25 were permitted to vote and could until the collapse of the Republic in 1769. In 1756 Lydia Chapin Taft became the first legal woman voter in the American colonies when she was permitted to have a say at a town meeting.

Some small island states (Pitcairn, Isle of Man, Cook Islands) gave women the vote before New Zealand. In the twentieth century, women’s suffrage really took off. Australia gave them the vote in 1902 and Finland followed in 1906. During the next decade, another 24 nations (including the UK) gave the fairer sex the right to a fair vote. During the 1920s another 11 nations jumped on the bandwagon, including the US. Another 18 nations got on board in the 1930s. The last nation to allow this precious right to female citizens in the twentieth century was Qatar, who gave women the vote in 1997. In the 21st century, Bahrain (2002), Oman (2003), Kuwait (2005), and United Arab Emirates (2006) finally caved to pressure and allowed women the vote. Saudi Arabia is expected to grant this right to women in 2015.

Every citizen of this country should be guaranteed that their vote matters, that their vote is counted, and that in the voting booth, their vote has a much weight as that of any CEO, any member of Congress, or any President. – Barbara Boxer

I believe that voting is the first act of building a community as well as building a country. – John Ensign

I’m totally down with insurrection in the street. I’ve had a great time with that over the years. Insurrection in the voting booth is the other part of the equation. – Jello Biafra

When public access to voting is impaired or when public confidence in voting is diluted, democracy suffers and our freedom is less secure. – DeForest Soaries

Also on this day:

Lord Haw-Haw – In 1945, William Joyce is sentenced to death for high treason against the British Government.
Buy a Vowel? – In 1983, Wheel of Fortune began evening broadcasts.
Sportsman of the Year – In 1988, Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board at the Olympic games.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 27, 2012

Women picket outside the White House

February 27, 1922: Leser v. Garnett is decided by the US Supreme Court. Universal suffrage has been a sought after ideal since democracies began to reappear. Athens, in 508 BC, became the first well-known democracy. This form of government is based on the premise that power comes from the people who are free to express their wishes via a free electoral system. In ancient Athens free men could vote or have their say. Women and slaves were excluded from the process.

Democracies were replaced by monarchies or oligarchies until the Middle Ages when some forms of representative government once again emerged. Voting rights and permissions have been slowly increasing. Property owners (males only) were first given a role in their own rule. Slowly, the amount of property a man needed to posses was lowered. The next step was for all free men to be given the vote. In the US, the end of the Civil War brought freedom to slaves. Race remained a stumbling block on the way to the voting booth.

The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870, less than a year after it was proposed. Now all men, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” could vote. Women, regardless of race, were still not granted this basic right. The women campaigned for equality of voting privilege and finally – 50 years later – the 19th Amendment was ratified. On August 18, 1920 the right to vote was no longer predicated on the citizen’s sex. The last state to ratify the Amendment was Mississippi which finally did so on March 22, 1984.

On October 12, 1920 Cecelia Streett Waters and Mary D. Randolph registered to vote in the state of Maryland. The state Constitution limited voting rights to men only. Oscar Leser and others filed suit against the state board of registry demanding the women’s names be stricken. The case listed three reasons for the invalid nature of the 19th Amendment. The US Supreme Court heard the case January 23-24, 1922 with Chief Justice William H. Taft presiding. Louis Brandeis wrote the unanimous opinion of the court. The 19th Amendment was indeed valid and women could vote. Case closed.

In democracy it’s your vote that counts. In feudalism it’s your count that votes. – Mogens Jallberg

The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting. – Charles Bukowski

If God had wanted us to vote, he would have given us candidates. – Jay Leno

I think it’s about time we voted for senators with breasts. After all, we’ve been voting for boobs long enough. – Claire Sargent

Also on this day:

Party in New Orleans! – In 1827, Mardi Gras was celebrated in New Orleans for the first time.
Andersonville – In 1864, the Confederacy’s POW camp at Andersonville opened.
The Lord and the Luddites – In1812, George Gordon Byron spoke out in the House of Lords.

Mud March

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 7, 2012

Millicent Fawcett

February 7, 1907: More than 3,000 women slog through the mud. It was the first large march organized by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The weather was cold and the London streets were full of mud. The women left Hyde Park and made their way to Exeter Hall. The march and the NUWSS were led by Millicent Fawcett. Ms Fawcett was helped with organizing the event by Lady Strachey, Lady Balfour, and Keir Hardie. Phillipa Strachey, daughter of Lady Strachey, was one of the leaders of the procession and helped bring together the 40+ organizations included for the demonstration.

The NUWSS was a group of suffragists as opposed to suffragettes. The former were “committed by definition to non-military activity” while the latter employed military tactics of protest. The NUWSS was formed in 1897 by the merger of three groups and Fawcett was the leader for 22 years. In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union broke away to form a more militant group. Even with the split, the NUWSS grew and by 1914 there were greater than 100,000 members in more than 400 branches. NUWSS, unlike the militant group, permitted men to join in the fight for women’s rights.

Dame Millicent Fawcett, nee Garrett, was both suffragist and feminist. She came from a liberal family and was charged, by her sister and when she was just 13, to turn to politics and get women the vote. Her sister became the first female doctor in Britain. Millicent met and married Henry Fawcett, a Liberal Member of Parliament. He was blind and his wife worked as his secretary and amanuensis. She was permitted to attend political meetings with her husband and gained an insight into politics. She also wrote a dozen books and numerous articles on a variety of topics. She is considered to have been instrumental in the creation of the 1918 laws giving at least some women the right to vote.

The Fawcett Society was named for Millicent. They have been “closing the inequality gap for women since 1866” when Millicent first began her life’s work. They have a vision of a society blind to gender with men and women receiving equal representation in public life, equal pay and pensions, and equality within the justice system. While great strides have been made in 140 years, there is still work to do. Women earn less per hour than men. Women make up less than 20% of MPs and only 4% of directors of the top 100 UK companies are women. There is an abysmal record for the prosecution of rapists in the UK.

The London weather did its worst against us; mud, mud, mud, was its prominent feature, and it was known among us afterwards as the “mud march.” – Millicent Fawcett

A gay enough procession by most accounts, despite the weather. Little touches of red and white splashed its length with rosettes and favours, posies bound with red and white handkerchiefs programmes, and above the line, white banners with vivid scarlet lettering. – Lisa Tickner

Democracy does not guarantee equality of conditions – it only guarantees equality of opportunity. – Irving Kristol

Equality of opportunity is freedom, but equality of outcome is repression. – Dick Feagler

Also on this day:

Pluto v. Neptune – In 1979, Pluto moved inside Neptune’s orbit.
Finally – In 1971, Switzerland gives women the vote.
The Little Tramp – In 1914, Charlie Chaplin first plays The Little Tramp in the  Kid Auto Races at Venice.

One Woman – No Vote

Posted in History by patriciahysell on June 18, 2011

Susan B. AnthonyJune 18, 1873: Susan B. Anthony is found guilty of willfully casting a ballot in the 1872 presidential election and fined $100 [about $1,700 in today’s currency]. Anthony was an abolitionist, educational reformer, labor activist, temperance worker, suffragist, and women’s rights campaigner. She attended her first women’s rights convention in 1852 at the age of 32.

On November 1, 1872 after threatening to sue if not permitted to register for the upcoming vote and after quoting the Fourteenth Amendment and relevant New York laws, Anthony and several friends were permitted to register for the upcoming election. This event led to headlines in the local papers and much debate among the male constituency. The local paper carried an editorial that proclaimed, “Citizenship no more carries the right to vote that it carries the power to fly to the moon… If these women in the Eighth Ward offer to vote, they should be challenged, and if they take the oaths and the Inspectors receive and deposit their ballots, they should all be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

The women voted on November 5. Sylvester Lewis, a Rochester salt miner, filed a complaint and Anthony was arrested on November 14 because she voted “without having a lawful right to vote.” After months of press, her trial was held in June. She was found guilty and fined, but refused to pay the fine. She was not imprisoned.

Universal suffrage is the right for all adults to vote. This right is sometimes limited by restrictions imposed because of gender, race, religion, or economic status. New Zealand was the first to grant women the right to vote in 1893. It took nearly a decade before any other country jumped on the bandwagon, but in 1902, Australia stepped up. The United States did not pass the Nineteenth Amendment which granted suffrage to women until 1920. There are still places where women’s [and men’s] suffrage is denied or conditional. In some areas, there is no suffrage and in others women are under stricter conditions than those that are applied to men.

“I have many things to say. My every right, constitutional, civil, political and judicial has been tramped upon. I have not only had no jury of my peers, but I have had no jury at all.”

“There never will be complete equality until women themselves help to make laws and elect lawmakers.”

“Resolved, that the women of this nation in 1876, have greater cause for discontent, rebellion and revolution than the men of 1776.”

“May it please your honor, I shall never pay a dollar of your unjust penalty.” – all from Susan B. Anthony

Also on this day:
Mental Institutions and Being Governor – In 1959, Governor Earl Long was committed to a mental institution.
Taxi! – In 1923, the first Checker Cab rolled off the assembly line.


Posted in History by patriciahysell on March 31, 2010

Women's suffragists demonstrate in February 1913. (Bain News Service)

March 31, 1776: Abigail Adams writes a letter to her husband, John Adams, stating that women are “determined to foment a rebellion” if the new Declaration of Independence doesn’t guarantee women’s rights as well as men’s. She was right, of course, but it took over 100 years for that to happen.

Women could be elected in the US before they could vote themselves into office. Women’s suffrage is still not a worldwide right, but progress is continually being made. It should be noted that there are places on this planet where male suffrage is also not granted.

Women have no right to vote in Saudi Arabia (men 21 and over) and at the Holy See or Vatican where only cardinals (all male) under the age of 80 can vote. Women got the vote in the Falkland Islands in 2009 while the Pitcairn Islands were first to grant this right in 1838. In Iceland, when first given a say, women had to be 40 or over, but the age was reduced to 18 five years later. As an ironic twist, Isle of Man was the second to give women a vote in 1881.

Women’s rights became more of an issue as slavery was being abolished. If one is saying that all humans are equal regardless of race, then certainly they should all be equal regardless of gender. Women became more vocal and demanded the full status of human beings. The Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, granting voting rights regardless of sex was finally ratified in August of 1920 – a mere 144 years after Abigail wrote her letter.

“Howiver, I’m not denyin’ the women are foolish: God Almighty made ’em to match the men.” – George Eliot in “The Harvest Supper,” Adam Bede

“I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm some man she was preparing to overwhelm.” – Ogden Nash

“Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.” – Samuel Johnson

“Democracy is being allowed to vote for the candidate you dislike least.” – Robert Byrne

Also on this day, in 1889 the Eiffel Tower was inaugurated.

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