Remembering 100 years of women’s votes

Dr. Karen M. Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, discusses the women’s suffrage movement in the United States. Photo by Alyson Glynn

By Alyson Glynn

As local elections wrap up and gear’s shift toward next year’s primary, many may have moments of frustration being inundated with advertisements, phone calls, and people knocking on our doors. What we forget in the midst of all of this is that the majority of our votes, the female variety in particular, was hard won over the course of decades.

Dr. Karen M. Kedrowski, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics and Professor of Political Science at Iowa State University, recently made a stop along the Mississippi to Muscatine Community College to present in front of a diverse audience. From college students across the four EICC campuses to members of local organizations, many showed up to listen to Dr. Kedrowski’s speech on the “Women’s Suffrage Movement and 100 Years of Women’s Votes.”

Dr. Kedrowski walked participants through the history of women’s suffrage. We remember the names Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony from our history lessons. What we may not remember is their significance to the 14th and 15th amendment as well as the Declaration of Sentiments which helped get the ball rolling in the women’s rights movement. You may remember the 14th amendment granting citizenship to people born or naturalized in the United States and the 15th amendment granting the right to vote regardless of race, color, or previous servitude. You may even recall the famous quote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.” Unfortunately, they weren’t always termed this way.

Originally, the 14th Amendment was the first to become gender specific. This directly influenced the 15th Amendment which didn’t include ‘sex’ as a protected right and the women’s rights movement gained momentum. Dr. Kedrowski jokingly cheered on the Cyclones when she mentioned Carrie Chapman Catt, graduate of what would become Iowa State University.

Catt would become the successor to Susan B Anthony and president of the movement’s mainstream group The National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA).

Dr. Kedrowski graduated from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and the University of Oklahoma, Norman as a political scientist. She followed a long line of women investing their education and careers into the political science field who all began with Alice Paul, who graduated as the first woman with a PhD in Political Science in the United States.

Paul is well known as a Quaker who formed the militant wing of the women’s rights movement. She organized the first protest in the United States outside the White House. A silent protest held with colorful banners of President Wilson’s own quotes.

Hundreds of women picketed in protest of their treatment. In return, these women were arrested and sent to Occoquan work camp to serve out their sentences for “obstructing traffic.” Dr. Kedrowski became notably more impassioned as she detailed the conditions the women dealt with, “Word leaked out of their treatment and there was huge moral outrage at the torture that was being done and the women were eventually released from prison. Some of them were so ill from the treatment, the hunger striking, the forced feedings that they had to be carried out on stretchers. Some were delirious with fevers.”

We know women now have the right to vote. Many of us have taken advantage of that fact by voting just this week in our local elections. Our voting right that almost didn’t happen. As pointed out by Dr. Kedrowski, the Constitutional Amendment passed the US House of Representatives by only one vote. The Senate passed the amendment with two votes. Finally the tipping point came down to the Tennessee House of Representatives and one final vote, that of Harry Burn.

Burn initially voted against the amendment before switching, quite unexpectedly, while still wearing the anti-suffrage symbol, the red rose, after receiving a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy.” The audience had a brief chuckle at this before it sunk in exactly how close women came to losing their movement and the hope for the right to vote. The amendment passed on Aug. 20, 1920.

Dr. Kedrowski wrapped up her presentation discussing and explaining the gender gap and how women are more likely to register to vote, vote in general, and vote for Democrats than their male counterparts.

However, she said, women are still catching up as elected officials.

“Women remain underrepresented in public life,” Dr. Kedrowski pointed out in reference to her slide of political statistics. From the Supreme Court and Presidential Cabinet to our local Iowa boards and commissioners are vastly underrepresented, going to far as to being 16% under the Iowa legal limit of 50% representation.

The 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment will be commemorated on Feb. 14 at the Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University. More details can be found on the ISU website.

Would you like to watch Dr. Karen M. Kedrowski’s presentation at Muscatine Community College? Find a recording on the Muscatine Public Access Channel’s YouTube page. Search for Muscatine Access Channel 9 – Women’s Suffrage Movement.