A Centennial Celebration of Suffrage: The Seattle Times Pacific NW magazine (August 11, 2019)
It’s important to keep the story relevant, especially in times where our democracy is until siege. It’s important to pass the torch to those following in our footsteps. It is also important to know that the struggles then and now are real. It is our duty to make sure we never lose sight of what we have fought for…and why!
Here in Washington State we passed the Voting Rights a decade before it was ratified in all states. We certainly were not the first, we had to fight for the right, but we joined Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, in 1910. Over the next ten years most states followed suit with the 19th Amendment Women’s Right to Vote passed by Congress in August 18, 1920.
In commemoration of the One Hundred Year passage of that vote this post features some of our “home-town hero’s,” who showed up and made a difference to not only our state but the entire nation and world too. The change-makers, unlady-like. Anyone who still criticizes protesters, if not for them our country would look much different. It’s what our nation was built upon, civil disobedience.
AS ORIGINALLY WRITTEN, the U.S. Constitution did not address voting rights, which were left to the states. In early U.S. history, the vast majority of voters were property-owning white men. Women were largely prohibited from voting — or disenfranchised — as were nonwhite men.
The property-owning requirement faded by the Civil War. In 1870, the 15th Amendment said states couldn’t deny voting rights to citizens because of race or color — although some states erected barriers such as poll taxes (still in use today, Florida) and literacy tests. But it was silent on women, who were still disenfranchised.
In 1920, the 19th Amendment cleared the way for most white and black women to vote. But there were exceptions. Until 1922, an American-born woman couldn’t vote if she was married to an immigrant (foreign-born and not yet naturalized, or a citizen). And even after 1922, she couldn’t vote if she had married an Asian immigrant.
In 1924, Native American men and women were granted voting rights, although, again, some states created obstacles to exercising those rights.
But it would be several decades before prohibitions on Asian immigrants becoming citizens were removed. A 1943 law sponsored by U.S. Rep. Warren G. Magnuson of Washington allowed Chinese immigrants already residing in the United States to become naturalized citizens with voting rights. Federal law three years later extended citizenship and voting rights to Filipino and Indian immigrants. And the federal McCarran-Walter Act did the same for Korean and Japanese immigrants in 1952.
African American women and other women of color struggled for the right to vote for decades after the passage of the 19th Amendment because some states passed a Wenatchee discriminatory laws.
Next came the 1965 Voting Rights Act that prohibits racial discrimination. Next up is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act 2020 that removes obstacles to it.
Here are some of our states suffragettes who had long and illustrious careers:
Josephine Corliss Preston of Walla Walla, who in 1912 became the state’s first female statewide elected official of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Mabel Seagraves, a Seattle surgeon who volunteered to serve in France during WWI, stayed after to help with the Spanish Flu and awarded France’s Medal of Honor
Elsie Parrish, a Chambermaid from Wenatchee, won a landmark decision in 1937 U.S. Supreme Court upholding Washington’s minimum wage law. The decision cleared a legal path for Social Security and other New Deal policies
Stephanie Coontz, a teacher from Evergreen State College and a cultural historian on family and marriage who wrote a myth-busting book, “The Way We Never Were”
Trish Millines Dziko, who retired from Microsoft at age 39, set out to teach computer skills to minority children.
Fawn Sharp, the five-term president of the Quinault Indian Nation vows to sue the fossil fuel industry charging that climate change has caused incalculable damage to the tribe’s fisheries, ecosystem, economy and culture.
To learn more about any of these women, click on the links below. Each of us has something to give to the world, but what the world needs now is LOVE….and kindness and persistence. However you can make a difference, show up. That’s how it begins.
- The Backstory: Washington women were a decade ahead of the curve
- The 19th Amendment: Democracy for some, but not all
- Josephine Corliss Preston: educator, suffragist, politician
- Mabel Seagrave: Living the Wellesley motto
- Elsie Parrish: A chambermaid clears the way for minimum wages
- Stephanie Coontz: ‘The Way We Never Were’
- Trish Millines Dziko: ‘You have it; you share it.’
- Fawn Sharp: The voice of the Quinaults